Women in STEM - Valentina Tereshkova
Born 150 miles outside of Moscow in 1937, Valentina Tereshkova became fascinated with skydiving at a very young age. After graduating, and without the knowledge of anyone in her family, she became a distinguished and competitive parachutist in 1959.
The Space Race, which was well underway as the 60s approached, was an incredibly fierce competition between what was at the time the Soviet Union and America. After the successful first space flight of Yuri Gagarin, rumors spread that America was planning to send a female astronaut into space. Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union moved quickly to establish a contest to find their next women astronauts. And in 1963, Valentina’s reputation and skill as a parachutist landed her a role as one of five Soviet women to begin training to go to space.
Nicknamed “Gagarin in a skirt,” Valentina became the first woman in space after a relatively short training period. To this day, Valentina is still the only woman to have ever flown a solo mission. When she was able to radio back to the command station, Valentina (known by her call-name, Seagull) said, “It is I, Seagull! Everything is fine. I see the horizon; it's a sky blue with a dark strip. How beautiful the Earth is ... everything is going well.” Valentina orbited the earth 48 times and spent 2 days, 22 hours, and 50 mins in space. America would not send a woman into space for nearly 20 years.
After her return, Valentina became a bit of a celebrity in the Soviet social circles. She also became a member of the World Peace Council and by the late 1970s, Valentina was a colonel in the Soviet Air Forces. After earning her doctorate in aeronautical engineering, Valentina taught at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut training center, and in her later years, got into politics and served as a part of the Russian legislature.
To learn even more about Valentina and her long space and political career, check out her Wikipedia page.
You can also check out this short video on her accomplishments: