Valentina Tereshkova. NASA.
On June 16, 1963, Valeriy Bykovsky had been orbiting in Vostok 5 for a little under a day when he gained a companion: Valentina Tereshkova in Vostok 6. After more than a year of intensive training, she became, on that Sunday afternoon, the first woman in space.
Tereshkova’s story starts towards the end of 1961 with Sergei Korolev. Korolev was the Soviet space program’s Chief Designer and the mastermind behind the nation’s earliest space triumphs; he’s sometimes referred to as the Soviet equivalent to Wernher von Braun. He’d already orchestrated launching the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, and in thinking of another first came up with the idea of launching a woman. He knew it would be a significant win for his nation, a way to send the message that the Soviet Union valued all citizens equally and give little girls hope that they too could go into space someday. The Central Committee of the Communist Party okayed Korolev’s idea and the search for the right woman began.
The first step was figuring out what skill set female cosmonauts would need. Officials looked at women in the military, acrobats, athletes who flew or sky-dived, and ...