Female Firsts: Valentina Tereshkova

Julia Miglets

December 27, 2016

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When a person recognizes their inner passion and creativity, ingenious innovation strikes like a match: the first time electricity was used, the first time someone won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American college. Of course, being that these "firsts" were the first of their kind, they happened a long time ago, and their statuses as "first" have long since been claimed, leaving us to wonder what else there is for us to be the first ones to accomplish.

However, for women, a lot of the firsts became stifled, forgotten, overlooked. It was only relatively recently in history that women have been recognized for their intelligence, work ethic, and tenacity. Take Drew Gilpin Faust, for example, who, in 2007, became the first female president in Harvard in its 371-year history. Or Hillary Clinton, who was the first woman to secure the democratic presidential nomination. It has taken women thousands of years to overcome the stereotyping, confining them to the household and the duties of the household, and for their intellect to actually be taken seriously.

Another "female first" was something so revolutionary that it didn't happen until the early 1960s, which is a relatively recent time period as far as the existence of women is concerned. The feat began as part of an international "war" between the Soviets and the U.S. in an attempt to prove who the greater country was. On 16 June 1963, the Soviets upped the ante - Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman ever to be sent to space.

The start of the future astronaut's life was humble. She was born in what is now western Russia in 1937, and after her father died in World War II, her mother had no choice but to support her children by working in a textile mill.

Tereshkova left school at the age of 16, but she eventually sought out the completion of her education through correspondence courses. From a very young age, she showed an involved fascination with parachutes after joining the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club, and she became a trained skydiver at the age of 22.

It was through this pure curiosity and active pursuit of aerodynamic experience that Tereshkova was introduced to the defining moment of her entire career: She was chosen, by the Soviet Space Program, to be a cosmonaut-in-training.

After her training, Tereshkova was sent into space aboard the Vostok 6.

The Soviets were in the lead of their legendary Space Race against America. Yelling, "Hey sky, take off your hat. I'm on my way!" as the aircraft took off, Tereshkova was launched into outer space, where she orbited the earth 48 times in less than three days (it was astonishing to many, as Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, had only ever orbited the earth once). She was commended by then the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who said "Valentina, I am very happy and proud that a girl from the Soviet Union is the first woman to fly into space and to operate such cutting-edge equipment."

A piece of the glass ceiling had broken for women everywhere.

After she returned to earth and parachuted the 20,000 feet from her spacecraft to the ground, Tereshkova was granted the title, Hero of the Soviet Union. After her trailblazing experience as an astronaut, Tereshkova became a prominent political figure for the USSR. She headed the Soviet Committee for Women, was featured on postage stamps and was even honored with the naming of the Tereshkova crater.

Being the first woman in space did not only define her as an astronaut but as a gender equality activist. And although many women will agree that they are not yet in the position of equality that they would like to see, there is no denying that
Tereshkova opened huge doors for females in the workforce.

She inspired women who wanted to be astronauts, engineers, scientists, or mathematicians, reminding everyone that a successful STEM career is attainable for anyone who is willing to work for it.

Research found at - Biography.com

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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