January 17, 2001

Russian Ladies in Space

Russian Ladies in Space

Colonel-Engineer Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova
Call Sign: Chayka (Seagull)

A fascination with parachute jumping led Valentina Tereshkova the unlikely, history making role as the first woman in space.

Unlikely because Valentina, unlike other cosmonauts, had never been a test pilot.

For Valentina, parachute jumping was a hobby. She made her first jump in 1959, at age 22, as part of the Aviation Club from Yaroslavl. At the time, she was working at the local textile mill and formed a workers parachute club there. In 1961, Valentina became the secretary of the local Young Communist League and joined the Communist Party in 1962.

Valentina was born on March 6, 1937, in the village of Maslennikovo, in the Yaroslavl region. Her father died in WWII and her mother, Elena Fedorovna, worked in the local textile mill and raised Valentina and her sister and brother. Valentina's education began at age 8 and she left to go to work in 1953 at age 16. In 1961, she earned a certification as a cotton spinning expert.

Five women were selected, on February 16, 1962, as cosmonaut trainees. Valentina was one of them and underwent the rigorous training program which included 120 jumps. Valentina did extremely well in the physical aspects of her training, but had trouble with the engineering topics. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the Soviet chief rocket designer, was responsible for the novel idea of placing a woman in space. Even so, the final decision as to which woman would make the flight belonged solely to Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Vostok 5 was launched on June 14, 1963. The flight, with cosmonaut Valeri Bykovsky on board, was relatively unsuccessful. Intended to be in orbit for 8 days, Vostok 5 had troubles from the start and was finally forced down after 5 days in space. On June 16, 1963, Vostok 6, with Valentina Tereshkova on board, was launched. This was to be a joint mission with Vostok 5 and the primary mission was to collect data on the effects of space flight on men and women. Valentina came within roughly 5 km of Vostok 5 and made radio contact with Bykovsky. Korolev, not pleased with Valentina's abilities suggesting that she was psychologically instable, never allowed her to take control of Vostok 6; she was, basically, along for the ride as a subject in a great experiment.

The one thing that could not be denied her was the fact that she became the first woman in the world to fly in space. There would not be another female Russian cosmonaut until Svetlana Svitskaya in 1982. Valentina completed three days in orbit, returning to Earth on June 19, 1963, just three hours before Vostok 5. After entering Earth's atmosphere, Valentina parachuted from her space craft, landing roughly 380 miles northeast of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Vostok 6 was recovered the same day at the geographical location of 53:16 N/ 80:27 E, east of where Valentina landed.

The Soviet space program had one eligible bachelor; Andrian Nikolayev. Nikolayev had flown aboard Vostok 3 on August 11, 1962. Rumors began that Valentina and Andrian were an item. This was not the case. The rumors eventually reached the ear of Premier Khrushchev who thought that such a union would be a wonderful and novel thing. He turned on the pressure and Valentina and Andrian were wed on November 3, 1963. The ceremony took place at the Moscow Wedding Palace with Khrushchev presiding. Seven months later, on June 8, 1964, Valentina gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter named Elena Andrionovna. Elena grew up and became a doctor.

Valentina's marriage to Andrian did not last long. After Elena's birth, Valentina attended the Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy and earned her college degree in October, 1969. The female division of the Soviet space program was done away with after Valentina's graduation.

Soviet space flight did not include women until the 1980s when it became apparent that the U.S. would be including women on Shuttle missions on a regular basis. Recruitment for female cosmonauts began in earnest. The next Soviet woman in space was Svetlana Savitskaya who flew in 1982 and 1984. Soyuz T-15 was supposed to be an all female crew and was scheduled to launch on National Women's Day, 1985. Instead, Soyuz T-15 launched in March of 1986 with a two man crew.

Valentina did not allow the fact that she would never again fly in space keep her from being active in Soviet life. She represented the Soviet government in many worldwide women's organizations. Valentina served as a member of the World Peace Council (1966) and the Union of the Supreme Soviet (1966 - 74). In 1974, Valentina was elected to the presidium of the Supreme Soviet and served as the Soviet Union's representative to the UN Conference for International Women's Year in Mexico City (1975). Valentina was designated as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, Vice President of International Woman's Democratic Federation and was President of the Soviet-Algerian Friendship Society.

When the Soviet era came to an end, Valentina lost all of her political standings. A resident of Star City, northeast of Moscow, the former cosmonaut currently heads the government center for international scientific and cultural cooperation.


  • June 1963 - Order of Lenin
  • Hero of the Soviet Union
  • Honorary Soviet Air Force commission
  • United Nation Gold Medal of Peace
  • Simba International Women’s Movement Award
  • Second Order of Lenin
  • Joliot-Curie Gold Medal


On July 25, 1984, Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space. She, along with fellow cosmonaut, Vladimir Dzhanibekov, conducted experiments on the Salyut 7 space station. The walk lasted 3.58 hours and was part of the Soyuz T-12 mission, Savitskaya's last. Igor Petrovich Volk rounded out this 3 person crew.

After returning to Earth on July 29, 1984, Savitskaya was slated to command an all female Soyuz crew to the space station in commemoration of National Women's Day. The mission was scrubbed due to the lack of Soyuz T availability and various troubles with the space station itself. Savitskaya was appointed Chief Designer at Energiya (1987) and became a member of the Duma in 1989.

Savitskaya officially left the Russian space program in 1993 after clocking 19.71 hours in space. Her husband, Viktor Khatkovsky, is an engineer and a pilot at Ilyushin Aircraft Design Bureau.

Svetlana Savitskaya was born on August 8, 1948, in Moscow. She was interested in flight from a very young age. As a school girl, she managed, for a time, to hide from her father her parachute jumping activities.

Savitskaya applied to pilot school at age 16 and was turned down. By the time she was 17, she had logged 450 jumps. At the age of 17, Savitskaya performed a jump from 14,252 meters, falling 14 km before opening her chute at roughly 500 meters. At the time, this feat set a new record. She was, eventually, accepted into the Soviet cosmonaut program on July 30, 1980.

Flying and adventure were in young Svetlana's blood. Her father, Yeveniy Savitsky, was a WWII flying ace, had served as Deputy Commander of the Soviet Air Defense and was designated, twice, as a Hero of the Soviet Union. At age 18, Svetlana entered the Moscow Aviation Institute, a state-of-the-art engineering school. In 1970, she attracted international attention as a World Champion member of the Soviet National Aerobatics Team.

After graduation in 1972, Svetlana pursued a career as a pilot. She set world records in supersonic and turbo-prop aircraft. Svetlana set the record as the first female to fly 2,683 km/hr in a MiG-21. By 1972, she was licensed to fly an amazing 20 different types of aircraft.

When Svetlana became a cosmonaut, in 1980, she was the 53rd to be associated with Energiya. On August 19, 1982, she was the second woman to travel in space during the Soyuz T-7 mission; seven months before Sally Ride became the first American female astronaut in space.


Elena was born on March 30, 1957 in Mitischi near Moscow. She graduated, with honors, from Moscow Bauman High Technical College (1980) and has been given the honor of Hero of Russia.

Upon her graduation, Elena took a job working in research for RSC Energia and was chosen as a cosmonaut candidate in 1989. She completed her training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Center in 1990 and qualified as a test cosmonaut.

Elena was the flight engineer for Soyuz TM-20 to Mir; October 4, 1994 to March 22, 1995. Of the 169 days she was in space, five were with US Astronaut Norman Thagard and a month with German Astronaut Ulf Merbold.

In May of 1997, Elena served as mission specialist aboard STS-84, the sixth US Shuttle mission to dock with Mir. Elena's total flight time is 178 days

Elena is married to Valeri V. Ryumin and the couple have one child. Her hobbies include fishing, traveling and attending the theatre. Elena's parents, Vladimir Kondakov and Klavdiya Morozova, live in Kaliningrad.

Images courtesy of NASA

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602