While yesterday brought with it the achievement of 19 years as a fleet for UFOP: Starbase 118, it will have to share its day-after glory of another milestone. In the shadow of our own anniversary, let us celebrate another milestone; one that was met fifty years ago today.
The successful launch of the first woman, and first civilian, into space, and safely bringing her home.
Fifty years ago, Valentina Tereshkova rode Vostok 6 into orbit only two years after another Russian became the first man in space. Chosen from over four hundred potentials, Tereshkova presented a candidate that not only met the qualifications physically, such as being shorter than 170 cm, under 30 years of age, and having been a parachutist before applying, but she also was the daughter of a war hero. Ultimately, she used her newfound status when asked by government leaders how the Soviet Union could repay her service, she simply requested that the location where her father died in World War 2. The government agreed and Tereshkova built a monument to him there.
In order to be allowed to join the cosmonaut corps, she was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force. This allowed her the benefits of the military, which she contributed to and served until a presidential order retired her from both the Soviet Air Force, and the cosmonaut corps in 1997.
At the time of her flight, the Soviet space program was growing and going through changes. Though she was originally supposed to fly Vostok 5 with another woman pilot in Vostok 6, but program retooling required the missions to be adjusted. In the shadow of the Voskhod program, which would be canceled shortly after it began and replaced with the Soyuz program, another male cosmonaut flew on Vostok 5, while Tereshkova took Vostok 6 towards the same objectives.
Vostok 6 launched successfully and flawlessly on June 16th, 1963, and a short time later, Tereshkova became the first woman and first civilian in space. For 48 orbits, she traveled around the Earth conducting a range of experiments that included photographs later used to document and identify aerosol based layers of our own atmosphere.
Though it seemed like a big step, one she was awarded numerous awards for, it would be a whole nineteen years before the Soviets would send another woman into space. The women chosen to be her backups never got the chance to fly and the entire women’s cosmonaut group was eventually dissolved in 1969. Tereshkova, however, along with her 48 short orbits, have truly gone down in history. Even today, she is more than a household name in the old Soviet region; she is a national heroine and still a dreamer.
When visiting the Prime Minister of Russian, Vladimir Putin, on her 70th birthday, she let it be known that she would gladly go to Mars, even if it was a one way trip.
Maybe, that day will come soon. It’s certainly closer to being within reach thanks to the advances and firsts of the Cold War, including the events of this day, fifty years ago, aboard a Vostok rocket in Baikonur.