On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first women to travel into space and inspired the next of generation of women in STEM.
Valentina was born in Maslennikovo a village in Russia in 1937 into poverty. Her father Vladimir was a tractor driver and a soldier ,who was killed in World War II, when Valentina was only two years old. While, her mother Elena worked at a local cotton mill in order to support Valentina and her two siblings. Valentina helped her mother at home and this meant that she only went to school for a few years. Even after she started working in the cotton mill she took correspondence courses determined to achieve more.
What led to her being chosen for space program was actually her parachuting experience that she gained at a local aeroclub where she made her first jump at age 22. Inspired by the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, Valentina applied to become a cosmonaut as the Soviet government was determined for the first women in space to be a Soviet citizen. In 1962, out of more than 400 applicants, Valentina was one of four women which were selected to join the cosmonaut corps. She wasn’t discouraged by her lack of technical knowledge compared to other candidates and persevered through months of intense training. Her hard work and devotion to her studies paid off when she was chosen to be the chief pilot for the Vostok 6 mission. At 12:30pm on June 16, 1963 she became the first woman to be launched into space where she stayed for 70 hours and 50 minutes. Valentina orbited the Earth 48 times which was remarkable as the four American astronauts who had been in Space before her flight had a combined total of 36 orbits. It’s an inspiration that she managed to achieve even with engineering issues during her flight.
After her flight Valentina was named a Hero of the Soviet Union and was used as propaganda to show the apparent progressive nature of the USSR as well as what a good Soviet woman looks like. She used her fame outside the USSR to promote the equality of sexes even representing the USSR at the United Nations conference for the International Women’s Year in 1975. However, Valentina never travelled into space again as male cosmonauts were prioritised for missions, but she continued to work as an aerospace engineer in the space program. Even now, Valentina is still an inspiration and continues to talk about her experiences to encourage women to pursue their dreams however far-fetched they may seem.