This Weekend Marks the 50th Anniversary of the First Woman in Space


While you might be spending Sunday celebrating the most important men in your life, a handful of space nerds will spend it mulling the successes of Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman to go to space in 1963. That was 20 years earlier than the United States sent the late Sally Ride into orbit.

Since Tereshkova’s trip, the U.S. has gotten a lot better at sending women to the abyss – better, even, than Russia. Cathy Lewis of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum explains:

“While the United States is working to integrate women into the space program over the generations, the Soviet Union really didn’t do that. They didn’t make an effort to integrate women in to the program, and it has really only been in the last year that Russia has changed their recruiting requirements for cosmonauts.”

After her first launch when she was in her mid-20s, Tereshkova actually never went to space again, despite saying motherhood wouldn’t infere with her plans to do so. She’s also recently said she would love to go to Mars. And according to this information (which I haven’t been able to corroborate elsewhere), she and another woman, Velentine Ponomaryoya, were supposed to take the original trip — Soviet leaders were annoyed because “she was too much of a feminist” and didn’t stay in line with Communist values in interviews or whatnot. That sounds totally possible, but either way, Velentine didn’t make it up there and Tereshkova did.

Tereshkova is described as “an accomplished amateur parachutist” which is why she got into the Soviet Union’s space program to begin with, because those were truly the days. She was apparently a big deal in Soviet society, and even managed to make it in Russian politics once that whole communism thing slowed down. Other fun facts: Tereshkova has both a lunar crater and a minor planet named after her. Her first husband also went to space. She got her face on a couple stamps. You can buy at least one cool mug with her face on it also. She basically is space.

In 1964 she said, “I strongly feel that no work done by a woman in the field of science or culture or whatever, however vigorous or demanding, can enter into conflict with her ancient ‘wonderful mission’ – to love, to be loved – and with her craving for the bliss of motherhood,” adding that she didn’t think there was any reason to say men were more equipped to go to space than women.

This news is also a necessary reminder that people who go to space in the Soviet Union are called “cosmonauts.” If only you could have a regular job like doctor or a lawyer but not have it sound so lame by comparison.

Major Milestone: 50 Years of Women in Space [Space]

Image via Getty

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