Valentina Tereshkova (2)

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Photos: public domain


There was a railway track not far from our house.  My biggest dream was to be a train driver!  I wanted to drive huge trains.  I thought a train driver was the happiest person in the world.  He could see all the big cities and travel all over the country.   —Valentina Tereshkova

VALENTINA TERESHKOVA was a Soviet cosmonaut [astronaut].  She was the first woman to fly into space.  More than 400 women applied [were part of a contest] to be the first woman to go into space.  

     Valentina came from a very simple family. Her father was a tractor driver and her mother was a milk maid [she milked cows].  In the Soviet Union [the name Russia was called then] young people could do parachute jumping [jumping from an airplane or a high platform with a cloth “balloon” tied to you so you can fall gently to earth].  The government had many programs like this for young people. Valentina loved to parachute jump and that is one reason she was chosen from so many young women to be a cosmonaut.  She also joined the “Young Communist League”.  It was a group for young people to show their support for their government.  Valentina was very faithful and devoted to it. This is another reason she was chosen to fly into space. 

     At that time there was a “Cold War” between America and the Soviet Union. A “Cold War” is when countries compete with each other to see who is best. And so, sending the first woman into space was a big secret!  The Soviet government did not want anyone to know, so they could make sure that they would be the first to do this. Even Valentina’s mother didn’t know about it!


June 16, 1963

     To train to go into space, Valentina had to do many difficult things. She took tests to see if she could sit in a very small place, all alone, for a long time.  She had to learn all about rockets and how they work. She had to learn how to fly jet fighter planes.  And all this, she had to learn very, very quickly.  The worst test of all, was being put in a machine that would spin her around and around.  

     Finally, on June 16, 1963 Valentina flew into space. She was only 26 years old. (Amelia Earhart was 36 when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone.)  Valentina flew in a spaceship called Vostok [East].  When she was put into the spaceship, she had to wait two hours until the spaceship finally blasted off [lifted off the ground]. As the spaceship left the earth she shouted, “Hello heavens!  Take off your hat. I’m on my way to you!”  She orbited [went around] the earth 48 times.  She was in space almost three days.  

     When her spaceship landed back on earth, local villagers ran out to meet her. They brought her boiled potatoes and milk, which she was happy to eat and drink.  She then went to the spaceship and found food she had with her in space that she did not eat.  She gave it to the village people.    

     Valentina was given the title, “Hero of the Soviet Union”.  The government chose her to serve in very important political positions for the rest of her life. The “Tereshkova Crater” on the far side of the Moon is named after her.  In 2013, when she was 76 years old, she offered to be one of the volunteers to go on a one-way trip to Mars.  She said, “Flying into space is my life. I cannot imagine any other life.” 

Does anything surprise you in this story?  What did you learn from it?

What do you think was the most difficult part of being the first woman to go into space?

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