As kids, space traveling was a dream. In a night full of stars we could imagine new galaxies and new worlds full of incredible creatures. We would sigh a hopeful ‘maybe one day’, and move on to our favorite bedtime activity, whatever it was. Today, new technology has turned our childhood dreams into a possible reality. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and a few other visionaries could be the ones making it available to me and you.
For many years, space travel was restricted to men. The first shuttle missions with Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong shocked the world with their travels. A female presence is not and was not extremely common. Yet, 60 years ago, a woman was able to take a look at earth from far far away.
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in 1937 in the Soviet Union. She was living on a collective farm, where both of her parents were working supporting the party. Around the age of 15, she was able to get her first much-needed job in a tire factory. In fact, with her fathers’ death during the second world war, she and her mother were struggling to get by. Even during such hard times, Valentina always maintained her curiosity and interest in learning. While working, she completed her studies via correspondence courses.
Right after graduation Valentina Tereshkova, joined her mum in a new job at a trade mill. A new post-work activity was the only way for Vanya to cope with the uninteresting reality she was living. That is when she had her first experience among the clouds. In 1958, she joined the Yaroslavl Aviation club, becoming a parachute jumper. 100 jumps over the next 3 years and she was one of the most expert members of the club. She was one of the few women in Russia with this kind of experience. Thus, Valentina was immediately selected as a member of the new Soviet program for women in space.
Vanya experience in parachute jumps was fundamental: in those times an astronaut had to jump out of the shuttle while falling down to earth. After 1 year of intense training, the time for selection had come: Valentina was going to her first, and only, a solo trip into space.
On the 16th of June 1963, the travel did not start in the best way as the small shuttle deviated from the planned trajectory. Nonetheless, she flew around the globe for 48 times during the 70 hours of her mission. After that bit of spinning around, she was then ready to descend back to humanity.
Her vast experience as a parachute jumper revealed to be fundamental. The different orbit caused the change in the landing point of the shuttle, and Valentina had to lend in an unplanned location. At the border of China, Kazakstan, and Mongolia, Valentina touched the ground again for the first time.
Alone in the middle of the desert, she had to wait for rescue. In the meantime, some of the local inhabitants saw her descent from the sky and came to see the angel that fell on earth. She smiled and joined them for a tea while waiting for someone to pick her up.
The result of her mission was clear: women astronauts have the same ability as men to sustain space traveling. In fact, Valya’s 48 revolutions were 12 more than the total about of revolutions experienced by the previous four American men in space.
Unfortunately, Valentina was never able to leave earth another time, but, she left her mark on our planet. As a symbol of feminism, she has been traveling all over the globe talking about her experience. She was nominated a hero of the nation in Russia, but she is even more appreciated outside of what was the Soviet Union. Mrs. Tereshkova received the gold medal for peace from the United Nation an occasion in which a standing ovation accompanied her acceptance speech.
Valentina always kept her involvement with the Soviet space program as a trainer, but a space traveler can’t be confined in one position. Her charisma brought her into politics and made her an important exponent of the Russian cultural society.
Today she remains an important model many women that want to achieve our dreams, even if they seem to be ‘out of this world’.
Her style evolved over time, from a more athletic look to a very institutional image. However, her views on the impact that women should have in society stayed the same. In an article from 1970, she said: ” I believe a woman should always remain a woman and nothing feminine should be alien to her. At the same time, I strongly feel that no work was done by a woman in the field of science or culture or whatever, however vigorous or demanding, can enter into conflict with her ancient ‘wonderful mission’—to love and to be loved—and with her craving for the bliss of motherhood. On the contrary, these two aspects of her life can complement each other perfectly.”