Valentina Tereshkova, born in 1937, was the first woman
in space. In 1963, she spent 3 days in space and orbited the earth 48 times.

Valentina was the youngest of three children. Her father was
a tractor driver. He fought with the Soviet Army in World War II and was killed
before she was three years old. Her mother struggled to raise three children
alone. As a child she had to help her mother with farm chores and she didn’t
attend school until she was ten years old. Eventually they left the farm and
went to live in the city, where her mother worked in a cotton mill. At 17 she
started working in factories. First she worked in a tire factory, and then she
joined her mother and sister in the cotton mill. She finished her schooling by
correspondence course, and graduated from the Light Industry Technical School.
This was by no means the end of her education, though.

Valentina was a great believer in the communist system and
joined the young communists leagues at the factory. She later became a full
member of the communist party. She also joined an amateur parachuting club and
became an expert parachutist.

Valentina was at work with her mother and sister when Yuri
Gagarin, the first ever astronaut, went into space. Her mother commented that
next time it should be a woman that went. Valentina was inspired.

Every person in the Soviet Union was entitled to apply to the
space program. Valentina applied and was accepted. Her parachuting experience
was one of the reasons she got in, along with three other women. The Soviets
wanted to send a woman to space, just once, to see if they could endure the
hardships as well as men. In order to become a cosmonaut (a Soviet astronaut)
she had to join the Air Force as an Officer.

She began her training in 1961 and it took 18 months. It
wasn’t easy. She had to spend hours studying technical manuals, rocket science
and spaceship design. She also underwent strenuous physical training.

On June 16, 1963, as a Junior Lieutenant and chief pilot of
the Vostok VI, she became the first ever woman to go into space. She orbited
Earth 48 times, and parachuted out of the spacecraft following its reentry into
Earth’s atmosphere. She had proven that women could withstand the physical and
emotional stresses of space flight as well as any man.

She was awarded a medal at the Kremlin three days later and
proclaimed as a Hero of the Soviet Union. She never returned to space, but
worked in the Space Program and married another Cosmonaut in 1963. One year
later their daughter, Elena, was born. She was the first child to be born to
parents who had both been to space. Doctors were a little worried that she would
not be normal, but Elena, now a doctor, proved them wrong.

She worked for the Communist party and headed the Soviet
Union’s International
Cultural and Friendship Union from 1987 to 1991.

She also worked tirelessly for the Soviet feminist movement.
She wanted Soviet women to be treated the same as men. Even so, she is famous
for the fact that she said and believed that a woman’s most important job is
to be caring and a mother. Here was a woman who had done perhaps the most
difficult job on Earth, and off it, and still thought being a mother was more
important!

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