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Valentina Tereshkova Biography

First Woman in Space

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Valentina Tereshkova was born to a peasant family in the Yaroslavl' region of the former USSR on March 6, 1937. Yaroslavl is now a part of Russia.

Soon after starting work in a textile mill at the age of 18, Valentina joined an amateur parachuting club. She was a hard worker. Later, at the age of 24, she applied to become a cosmonaut. Just earlier that year, 1961, the Soviet space program began to consider sending women into space. The Soviets were looking for another "first" at which to beat the United States.

Overseen by the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, the selection process began mid-1961. Since there weren't many female pilots, women parachutists made an excellent field to choose from. Valentina Tereshkova, three other women parachutists, and a female pilot were selected to train as cosmonauts in 1962.

As per the paranoia of the time, the entire program was shrouded in secrecy. When she left for training, Tereshkova reportedly told her mother she was going to a training camp for an elite skydiving team. It wasn't until the flight was announced on the radio that her mother learned the truth. The identities of the other women in the cosmonaut program were not revealed until the late 1980s. Valentina Tereshkova was the only one of the group to go into space.

The historic first flight of a female cosmonaut was slated to concur with the second dual flight (a mission on which two craft would be in orbit at the same time, and ground control would maneuver them to within 5 km (3 mi) of each other). Scheduled for June of the following year, the flight left only about 15 months for training. Basic training for the women was very similar to that of the male cosmonauts. It included classroom study, parachute jumps, and time in an aerobatic jet. They were all commissioned as second lieutenants in the Soviet Air Force. At that time, the air force had control over the cosmonaut program.

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