Valentina Tereshkova. Credit: ESA
Topics: Astronautics, ESA, History, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Women in Science
The first female cosmonaut flew years before NASA put a man on the Moon and decades before any other country would send a woman into orbit.
On a drab Sunday in Moscow in November 1963, a dark-suited man stood beside his veiled bride, whose bashful smile betrayed the merest hint of nerves. Despite the extraordinarily lavish surroundings of the capital’s Wedding Palace, it might have been any normal wedding, but for one thing: Both groom and bride were cosmonauts, members of Russia’s elite spacefaring fraternity.
Two years earlier, that bride, Valentina Tereshkova, had been a factory seamstress and amateur parachutist with more than 100 jumps to her name when she’d volunteered for the cosmonaut program. Now, the 26-year-old, whom TIME magazine dubbed “a tough-looking Ingrid Bergman,” was among the most famous women in the world, an accolade she had earned just months ago by becoming the first female to leave the planet.
Sixty years on from her pioneering Vostok 6 mission, more than 70 women from around the globe have followed in Tereshkova’s footsteps, crossing that ethereal boundary between ground and space. Some have commanded space missions, helmed space stations, made spacewalks, spent more than a cumulative year of their lives in orbit, and even flown with a prosthesis. And women from Britain, Iran, and South Korea have become their countries’ first national astronauts, ahead of their male counterparts.
60 years ago today, Valentina Tereshkova launched into space, Ben Evans, Astronomy