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

The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

The Little Humpbacked Horse (bilingual)

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
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.
Russian Rules

Russian Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
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.
Chekhov Bilingual

Chekhov Bilingual

Some of Chekhov's most beloved stories, with English and accented Russian on facing pages throughout. 
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.

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