First woman in space
A month after Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight in May 1963, the Soviet Union launched the first woman into space.
Twenty-six-year-old Valentina Tereshkova made 48 orbits of Earth in her spacecraft Vostok 6, circling Earth once every 88 minutes during her historic journey spread over nearly three days.
Two days before her launch on 16 June, the Soviet Union had sent Vostok 5, manned by Valery Bykovsky, into space. The two spacecraft, Vostok 5 and Vostok 6 passed within five kilometres of each other during their flights. Soviet officials said the dual flight was conducted for “simultaneous observations of the reactions of a man and woman flying in space.”
Both spacecraft returned to Earth on 19 June, Bykovsky having piloted Vostok 5 for 81 orbits, lasting nearly five days.
Valentina Tereshkova never went into space again. In November 1963 she married cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, and the couple became proud parents of a daughter the following year. The child, Elena, was of special interest to scientists because both her parents had travelled in space and there were fears that space radiation may have damaged their genes in some way. However these fears proved groundless. Elena was perfectly normal and healthy.
Vostok 6 was the last mission in the Vostok program, which began with Yuri Gagarin’s flight in April 1961. Other Vostok missions were cancelled in 1964, and the Soviet scientists began to work on the Voshkod program.
Having succeeded in their mission to send men into space and bring them back alive, both the space nations were now aiming for the moon.