Adventures in Feministory: Valentina Tereshkova, Outer Space's First Lady

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Space may be the final frontier for many of us, but it's familiar territory for Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. In June of 1963, Tereshkova was chosen—out of more than 400 applicants—to be the first woman to fly in space. Tereshkova, a young white woman, in a space helmet and orange jumpsuitBorn in 1937 to working-class parents in Central Russia, Tereshkova became interested in skydiving and parachuting at a young age. It was this interest—and the skills that she developed as a result—that put her at the head of the class in 1962, when she and four other women formed the female cosmonaut corps. Sure, they were originally chosen because the chief Soviet rocket engineer wanted to see what would happen to women's bodies in space (maybe our periods would get weird or something?), but they kicked ass all the same. (Unfortunately, Tereshkova was the only candidate of the five original female cosmonauts to actually fly in a space mission. Apparently since her ladyparts survived the journey without issue, the other women were dismissed.) Not surprisingly, given the sexism that was present in the forming of the female cosmonaut corps, it was more than just Tereshkova's parachuting skills that earned her her spot in the Vostok 6 spacecraft. From Astronautix:

But it was Premier Khrushchev himself who made the final crew selection. Tereshkova embodied the qualities expected of the New Soviet Woman. She was a reliable communist, a factory worker from a humble background, and a 'good' girl. Most importantly, she had the looks, charm, and attitude necessary for celebrity - Kamanin would later call her 'Gagarin [the first human in space] in a skirt'.

Tereshkova's face in black and white on a blue and white stamp with Russian writingLooks in a skirt aside, Tereshkova—call sign Chaika, which means seagull—orbited the earth 48 times during her 1963 space flight. Apparently she experienced some technical problems with the spacecraft, but even though she alerted the control team to what was going on and was able to land safely, after her flight they attempted to discredit her by saying that she became "overly emotional" and "insubordinate," and that she may have been drunk during the voyage. (Hm, overly emotional and drunk? Where have we seen those accusations made of women before? Well, it's nice to see that douchebags transcend time and place, at least.) After the flight, Tereshkova ended up in what sounds kind of like an arranged marriage to Andrian Nikolayev, the only bachelor cosmonaut. They had a child together, Elena Andrianovna, making Tereshkova the first woman to give birth after having been in space, and Elena the first child to have two parents who'd been in space (meaning, like her mother, she had a lot of tests done on her). Later, after she learned she would not be allowed to fly in space again, Tereshkova and Nikolayev divorced, and Tereshkova remarried Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a physician working at a military medical academy. He passed away in 1999. Though she has not been to space since her first voyage, Tereshkova has gone on to a career in politics and international relations. She earned her doctorate in engineering in 1977, and held several political positions with the Soviet government. She was the Soviet representative to the UN Conference for the International Women's Year in Mexico City in 1975, a torch bearer during the 2008 Olympic Games, and even showed up on a Soviet stamp (at left). On her 70th birthday in 2007, Tereshkova was invited to celebrate with then-President Vladimir Putin. Here's a photo from their meeting, which I love because Tereshkova looks so surprised by his dog. Why is the dog even there?

Tereshkova and Putin at a table. Tereshkova is staring at a large black dog standing in the foreground

What's up, dog?

While at this presidential dog birthday party, Tereshkova told the press: "If I had money, I would enjoy flying to Mars. This was the dream of the first cosmonauts. I wish I could realize it! I am ready to fly without coming back."

Here's hoping she makes it back into orbit!

Bitch cofounder Andi Zeisler illustrated a gorgeous mug featuring Valentina Tereshkova, and you can get your very own at BitchMart!

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Thanks for sharing this,

Thanks for sharing this, sadly I had forgotten about Tershkova's noteworthy achievement. In the book Space for Women by Pamela Freni about the first American women candidates to the space program; the 13 women candidates did better than the men in the sensory deprivation chambers and many of the tests, and the women and those running the program argued that women might be better suited than men in general for space travel. Unfortunately the American women's program never got the support it needed and none of those 13 women made it into space.

This was veryyy cool. I

This was veryyy cool. I never really heard of her before. This article was very informative, and the added hint of sarcasm just made it all that more interesting! I'm really starting to wonder though, how DID she handle her time of the month up in space? Was it even monthly anymore?