A journey to the stars: First woman in space turns 75
By Wolfgang Jung Mar 6, 2012, 13:07 GMT
Moscow - The story of Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova's rise from factory worker in the Russian provinces to the first woman in space is a modern-day fairy tale.
'As a child, I dreamed of a journey to the stars,' ex-cosmonaut Tereshkova told a Moscow newspaper ahead of her 75th birthday on Tuesday. 'I would have flown there on a broomstick, if need be.'
On June 16, 1963, at the age of 26, Tereshkova lifted off in her Vostok 6 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. Her provisions included onions and black bread.
She felt extremely nervous, as she revealed years later. 'For a long time, I wasn't allowed to reveal anything - neither about how I had felt during the flight, nor about the technical problems that occurred,' she remarked.
After completing 48 orbits of the Earth in just under 71 hours, Tereshkova parachuted from her capsule at an altitude of seven kilometres and landed near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.
Her call sign on the flight was Chaika (seagull), a nickname she carries to this day.
She remained the only woman to have been in space until 1982, when her countrywoman Svetlana Savitskaya became the second.
Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937, in a village near the western Russian city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River. It is safe to say that no one at her cradle thought she would make history one day.
When Tereshkova was three years old, her father was killed in the Soviet Union's Winter War with Finland.
'Since there is no grave, for a long time the Soviet secret service considered my father to have been a deserter and initially denied me, a 'traitor's daughter,' permission to fly,' Tereshkova said.
She worked at a tyre plant as an adolescent, and later as a textile factory assembly worker. Her passion, however, was space travel.
'I wanted to be close to the sky. So I started skydiving,' she says.
She went to evening school and earned a cotton-spinning technical diploma in 1960. In 1962, amid national elation at the first manned space flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the previous year, Tereshkova applied to the Soviet space agency Glavkosmos.
'It is no secret that the Soviet Union, in a race with the United States, wanted to put the first woman in space for propaganda reasons,' she says.
Then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is said to have personally selected her, a simple worker from the provinces, because of her politically correct 'proletarian' background.
Tereshkova's marriage in 1963 to fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev is also said to have been ordered by the Kremlin. The couple had a daughter, Yelena, but later divorced. Tereshkova's second husband, a surgeon, died in 1999.
'Despite all the setbacks, I've been lucky in life,' she said on Russian television.
Following her historic flight, Tereshkova remained on the planning staff of Glavkosmos and held various positions in the Communist Party. She is currently a member of parliament, from Russia's ruling United Russia party, in Yaroslavl province.
Tereshkova continues to enjoy a high standing among her compatriots, but is seldom seen in public these days.
'I prefer to play with my grandson, Alexei, or my Persian cat,' said the former cosmonaut, who also likes to do sewing work to alter men's sports jackets.
She still has a dream: 'I would like to live to see man land on Mars.'