Valentina Tereshkova was born in the Yaroslavi region of Russia on March 6, 1937. She left school at the age of 16 to begin working at a textile factory, but continued her education by correspondence courses. Her favorite hobby was parachute jumping.
It was this hobby that led to her recruitment for the special women-in-space program. She launched into orbit on June 16, 1963 aboard the Vostok 6 – and became the first woman in history to fly in space. Additionally, Valentina is considered the first civilian to fly in space, since she was only an honorary Junior Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force before her flight.
During her 70.8-hour flight, Valentina orbited the earth 48 times! At the time, she had logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. She also took photographs of the earth’s horizon, which were used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere. Upon returning to Earth, she was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the USSR’s highest award.
Valentina never flew into space again. However, she has signed up to be part of the first one-way trip to Mars! Valentina went on to earn her doctorate in engineering. She also became a spokesperson for the Soviet Union and, later, received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace for her political work.
Interest in Valentina would continue, especially after she married fellow astronaut Andrian Nikolayev. Their daughter, Elena, was the subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space!