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Who was the first woman in space?

This day in history the first woman left earth and entered space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Valentina Vladimirovna "Valya" Tereshkova was born in the Yaroslavl Region of Russia in Maslennikovo (a village near the Volga River about 170 miles northeast of Moscow) on March 6, 1937. She was the second of three children. Her father was a tractor driver and her mother worked in a textile plant. Valentina began school in 1945 at the age of eight. In 1953, she left school and began working. She continued her education by correspondence courses.

Valentina became interested in parachute jumping at an early age. Her expertise in parachute jumping led to her selection as a cosmonaut. Tereshkova was a textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur parachutist. After Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, Tereshkova volunteered for the Soviet space program. Although she did not have any experience as a pilot, she was accepted into the program because of her 126 parachute jumps. At the time, cosmonauts had to parachute from their capsules seconds before they hit the ground on returning to Earth.

Under the direction of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, four other women were selected to be trained for a special woman-in-space program. Tereshkova received 18 months of training, which included tests to determine how she would react to long periods of time being alone, to extreme gravity conditions, and to zero-gravity conditions. Of the five women, only Tereshkova went into space.

Tereshkova was launched aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963 and became the first woman to fly in space. It was a dual mission with Cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovsky launching on Vostok 5 two days prior, June 14, 1963. During the 70.8 hour flight, Vostok 6 made 48 orbits of Earth. The two crafts came within 3 miles of each other and exchanged communications.

Soviet and European TV viewers saw her smiling face and her logbook floating in front of her. They did not realize her flight almost turned into tragedy, a fact that was classified for about 40 years. An error in the spacecraft's automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth, according to the RT news channel. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. Tereshkova landed safely, but received a bruise on her face.

Upon completion of her mission, Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. She never flew again, but she did become a spokesperson for the Soviet Union. While fulfilling this role, she received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace.

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married astronaut Andrian Nikolayev. Their first child, daughter Elena, was a subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena went on to become a medical doctor.

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