The woman who would one day list among her achievements becoming a Soviet Air Force Major General, a pilot, and a cosmonaut hailed from humble beginnings in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR). Valentina Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937 in Bolshoye, Maslennikovo, Russian SFSR. Her father had served as a Red Army soldier in World War II, and her mother worked at a cotton mill. Tereshkova's early years were spent helping her mother after her father's death in the war. After Tereshkova started school, she would later work at various jobs to help with the family income. She also graduated through correspondence school. Her political ideology was considered strong enough to help her advance in the Communist Party.
After her graduation, inspired by Yuri Gagarin, Tereshkova applied for a chance to start an aviation career, and she was accepted to train as a parachutist at the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club. After this she was all set to train as a cosmonaut with her record 126 parachute jumps. Tereshkova became one of the five women to train as a cosmonaut in the burgeoning Soviet Space Program in 1961. Much of her training consisted of tests for space qualifications. Tereshkova, however, found it difficult to study spacecraft designs and rocket techniques, as her previous studies had been geared more towards light industrial technical courses. Not wanting to fail, Tereshkova found extra time in the evenings to concentrate more on her studies.
On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova, who was at that time a Junior Lieutenant in the Soviet Army, found herself on her way to space. That day, inside the Vostok VI, Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. In the spacecraft, Tereshkova orbited earth 48 times during a period of 70 hours and 50 minutes. One of Tereshkova's most important achievements was that her efforts resulted in more women being given the opportunities in space. Subsequent Soviet tests even found out that women had better endurance in tolerating G-forces. Returning to earth with fellow cosmonaut Bykovsky after their orbit in space, they were declared heroes of the Soviet Union, and were further honored with the Gold Star medal and the Order of Lenin.
Many challenges were faced by Tereshkova in her career as cosmonaut. She was heaped honors in her native country and also in the other countries that she visited. However, the truth was that female cosmonauts at the time were treated with less respect than their male counterparts in her home country. The Soviets at that time began to see females cosmonauts as great propaganda material, and used them accordingly. There could be truth in this, as they were not always given the same equality in flight missions in other countries either. Tereshkova later pushed for equality for women by advancing feminism in her country. She also entered politics as the head of the Soviet Women's Committee.
After all the accolades had been received, Tereshkova married another cosmonaut, Nikolayev, after her historic flight into space. The couple had a daughter and later, due to career pressures, separated. Tereshkova continued on to work for women's equality, representing her country in international women's events and organizations abroad. Tereshkova was the last female cosmonaut until the 1980s. Today, she is 78 years old and living strong in Russia. Historians admire her work towards women's equality in her home country, and she also serves as a model around the world for women in achieving their goals. Tereshkova still receives awards and recognition today from appreciative governments to honor her achievements and work.
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