Today in History – June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space aboard the Soviet Union’s Vostok 6. At the time, Tereshkova had completed three days in space, more than the flight time of all the American astronauts put together.
Tereshkova’s story has many gendered aspects. The Soviets seem to have used the female cosmonauts as a publicity stunt. Tereshkova was one of five women picked for this program; the least qualified in regards to higher education. Premier Khrushchev made the final crew selection, picking Tereshkova as she embodied the qualities expected of the New Soviet Woman – a reliable communist, a factory worker, and came from a humble background. He called her a “good girl”. In spite of technical issues during the flight, she proved to be quite able.
Tereshkova has received a number of medals and distinctions, including two Orders of Lenin; recognition as a Hero of the Soviet Union; the United Nation Gold Medal of Peace; the Simba International Women’s Movement Award; and the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal. In 2000, she was named “Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century” award by the International Women of the Year Association.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on Valentina Tereshkova and space exploration. For related educational resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education or Engineering Diversity disciplinary communities.