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Valentina Tereshkova (Sea Gull): The First Woman in Space


Valentina Tereshkova

On July 16, 1962 aboard Vosktok 6, on a clear and sunny day, Valentina Tereshkova, nicknamed Valya, became the first woman to travel to space… failing to wear her favorite “Red Moscow” perfume. She was born in Maslennikovo, Russia on March 6, 1937 when Russia was still part of the Soviet Union.

Her father, Vladimir Tereshkov, was a mechanic and tractor driver who went to fight in WWII on June 22, 1941, or the “Great Patriotic War, as it’s called in Russia, and never made it back. Her mother, Yelena Tereshkova, worked in a factory that made cotton fabric.

Launched into space at 12:30pm, her mission completed 48 orbits around earth and returned at 11:20am after seventy hours and fifty minutes in space. She’d fallen asleep her first day on the job—where she lunched on herring and egg patties, white bread, fresh apple, black currant juice—in an unscheduled nap. She saw a storm brewing over the Indian Ocean on her six orbit.

Other meals aboard Vostok 6 included roast beef, roast tongue, chicken filet, red caviar, rice and eggs, and curds. There were orange, apple and lemon slices. For drinks there was also cherry juice, coffee or tea. She consumed 2,529 calories per day across four meals, had one quart of water per day for drinking purposes.

In keeping with an old Russian custom, she was welcomed with traditional gift of black bread and salt, along with cheese, lepeshki (griddle cakes), and kumiss (fermented mare’s milk) from neighboring collective farms.

The 1950s, apparently, was a time described as a “space race between Russia and the US.” Sputnik—the world’s first artificial satellite, 22 inches in diameter, and weighing 184 pounds— was launched by Russia. The first man, Yuri Gagarin, was sent to space, the first mission to reach the moon, the first space station. She was inspired by Yuri Gagarin.

So, what steps did she take to accomplish this? By writing a letter to the Soviet Space Commission seeking to train as a cosmonaut. In 1961, she and four other women were chosen for cosmonaut training by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. She learned of her acceptance into the program on February 16, 1962. The Soviet Union (Russia) wouldn’t send another woman into space until 19 years later. The first woman to have written in to the Soviet Space Commission expressing interest in going to space was Olga Vinnitskaya.

Valya had taken courses in metallurgy, machine operation, electrical engineering, methods of testing cotton fabrics, principles of textile manufacturing in secondary technical school and received certificate as a textile -engineering technician in 1960. She skied, rowed and raced bicycles. With practice, she was able to cut her time from 3.4 minutes to 3.2 in the 720-meter swim event. She even played the mandolin in a folk-music group.

By the end of Spring 1957, Valya took a trip to Leningrad, the city of the old czars built on a swamp by Peter the Great in 1703. It was here in the 1930s that Valentin Petrovich Glushko designed the engines for the rocket booster that orbited Sputnik I and the Vostok spacecraft in Leningrad. Later, research in rocket propulsion was performed by the Leningrad Group—founded by Nikolai Alekseyevitch Rynin and Jakov Isidorovich Perelman—for the Study of Reactive Motion. As early as 1933, the group designed, built, and static fired a liquid-propellant rocket engine that produced ninety-one pounds of thrust.

Valenina Tereshkova and Adriyan Nikolayev wedding

She married fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Grigoryevich Nikolayev on November 3, 1963, listed as marriage 10,860 in Mrs. Yevdokiya G. Voroshilove’s register of marriages. A pair of craters on the moon were named for them by 19th century General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. They gave birth to a daughter, Yelena Andrianovna Nikolayev on  June 8, 1964 at 2am, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces, 20.5 inches long.

“I am a good plain cook. No frills. I make the kinds of things people like—borscht (beet soup), blini (pancakes), and pelmeni (dumplings)—and my strawberry jam is out of this world.”

She was elected as deputy to the Supreme Soviet, became president of the Soviet Women’s Committee and addressed the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Helsinki where she was to report on “Women and Labor. The theme of the meeting was “The Role of Women in the Modern World.”

She was an honored guest at the World Women’s Congress in Moscow on June 24, 1963 which ended with an appeal to women of the world to fight for peace and to work against the arms race.

In 1969, she was almost shot to death by a man seeking to assassinate Secretary Brezhnev and President Podgorny. Bullets crashed through the car as she drove through Borovitsky Gate into Kremlin, shattering windows and spraying slivers of glass. The driver was mortally wounded. Adriyan pushed her to the floor and covered her body with his.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Sally Ride, the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983 aboard the space shuttle orbiter Challenger.

Born May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California, she’d completed degrees in physics and English. After seeing an ad in the Standford paper that NASA was searching for astronauts for the new space shuttle program, she filled out the form to be a mission specialist and mailed it to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. This was the first time in 10 years NASA had sought to hire astronauts.

In 1978, Sally became one of the 35 astronauts chosen from a group of more than 8,000 men and women who applied to become space shuttle pilots and mission specialists.

The shuttle landed June 24 at Edwards Air Force Base in California following a flight lasted 6 days, 2 hours, 24 minutes and made 98 orbits around the earth. In one experiment, she checked to see how radish and sunflower seeds would grow without gravity. The results were to have been used to design large, solar powered space farms.

“My greatest joy would be to become the first woman to set foot on the moon.” 

Like this post? Stop by and read "Helen Keller: An Advocate for the Blind" where she's quoted to have said "O moon, come to me. Do you think the lovely moon was glad that I could speak to her?" You may also like the Blue Velvet handcrafted beaded necklace.

Works cited:

  • Feldman, Heather. Valentina Tereshkova: The First Woman in Space. PowerKids Press, 2003.
  • “Moon Missions.” NASA, NASA, 15 May 2021,
  • Sharpe, Mitchell R. "It Is I, Sea Gull;" Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space. Crowell, 1975.

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