Sunday, June 16, 2013

50 Years Ago: First Woman in Space!

Cosmonaut Valentina Tershkovova

Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union took another leap forward in launching the first woman into space aboard Vostok 6. Valentina Tereshkova also became the first civilian to fly into space. She also saved her space mission!

Launch of Vostok 6 from Baikonur.

I've read in several accounts that the original mission goal was to have two women in space at the same time in Vostok 5 and 6, making a rendezvous, but that plan changed and instead Valery Bykovsky piloted the previous craft into orbit. Two days after that launch, Tereshkova lifted off in Vostok 6, and she made radio contact with Bykovsky after she reached orbit. Near the beginnings of the flight, Tereshkova made a discovery that there was an error in the descent program which would have caused the craft to ascend in orbit instead of descend. After she informed this to the Russian flight control, the engineers sent up correct instructions to Tereshkova, which she entered into the navigation program, thus saving her from problems during deorbit. This event was kept a secret until 2004.

Artist image of Vostok 6.

Keeping contact with Vostok 5 by radio, Tershkova flew within several miles of Bykovsky. Encyclopedia Astronautica has an interesting account by Tereshkova of what her mission was like, including an unfortunate event caused by eating food that was not very good:

Vostok 6 on the ground.

After re-entry, according to procedures, Tershkova ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground separate from the capsule chutes. They landed nearby each other, but she was stuck on her back in the ejection couch until rescuers reached her by plane and parachuted down to assist. 

Vostok 6 capsule on display.

Vostok 6 was the last mission using the Vostok 3KA spacecraft. The capsule is on display at the RKK Energia Museum in Korolyev.

Stamp and cover of mission.

Various stamps of the Joint Mission.

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