Valentina Tereshkova was born in the village Maslennikovo, Tutayevsky District, in Central Russia. Tereshkova’s father was a tractor driver and her mother worked in a textile plant. Tereshkova began school in 1945 at the age of eight, but left school in 1953 and continued her education through distance learning. She became interested in parachuting from a young age, and trained in skydiving at the local Aeroclub, making her first jump at age 22 on 21 May 1959. At that time she was employed as a textile worker in a local factory. It was her expertise in skydiving that led to her selection as a cosmonaut.
After the flight of Yuri Gagarin (the first human being to travel to outer space in 1961), the Soviet Union decided to send a woman in space. On 16 February 1962, ‘proletaria’ Valentina Tereshkova was selected for this project from among more than four hundred applicants. Tereshkova had to undergo a series of training that included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters.
Since the successful launch of the spacecraft Vostok-5 on 14 June 1963, Tereshkova began preparing for her own flight. On the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova and her back-up cosmonaut Solovyova were dressed in space-suits and taken to the space shuttle launch pad by a bus. After completing her communication and life support checks, she was sealed inside Vostok 6. Finishing a two-hour countdown, Vostok-6 launched faultlessly.
Although Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight, she orbited the earth 48 times and spent almost three days in space. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. Tereshkova also maintained a flight log and took photographs of the horizon, which were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.
Vostok-6 was the final Vostok flight and was launched two days after Vostok-5, which carried Valary Bykovsy into a similar orbit for five days, landing three hours after Tereshkova. The two vessels approached each other within 5 kilometers at one point, and from space Tereshkova communicated with Bykovsky and the Soviet leader Khrushchev by radio.
Much later, in 1977 Tereshkova earned a doctorate in Engineering from Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. Afterwards she turned to politics. During the Soviet regime she became one of the presidium members of the Supreme Soviet. Now this living legend is a member in the lower house of the Russian legislature. On her 70th birthday when she was invited by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, she expressed her desire to fly to Mars, even if for a one-way trip.
Source: English for Today (Classes XI-XII)