‘Hey, Sky, Take off Your Hat! I'm Coming!’

PHOTO by A shot from "Soviets in Space" documentary / RIA Novosti
Valentina Tereshkova of Russia, the first female cosmonaut, turns 80

Eighty years ago today, Valentina Tereshkova, the first female cosmonaut, was born. Gazeta.ru recounts the story of her space flight and preparation for it, as well as what Tereshkova has been doing since her eventful flight.

Valentina Tereshkova was born on Mar. 6, 1937, in the village of Bolshoye Maslennikovo in the Yaroslavl region. Her parents were peasants.

Starting in 1959, Tereshkova made 163 parachute jumps. While men had been the first to visit space, Sergei Korolev, considered the father of the Soviet space program, decided to send a woman up as well. Naturally, there were lots of applicants.

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Valentina Tereshkova getting ready for her space flight

Selection for cosmonaut training was based on the following criteria: they needed to be a parachutist under the age of 30 up to 170 centimetres in height and weighing up to 70 kilograms. As a result, five candidates out of hundreds were selected, including Tereshkova.

It was initially assumed that two women would go up into space at one time, although they decided to send only one woman in 1963. "We prepared another woman for the flight as well but Korolev decided not to risk one more life. The other astronaut-to-be already had a family," Tereshkova said.

On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova made her flight under the call sign Chaika, which is the Russian word for seagull. During the launch of the Vostok-6 spacecraft, she quoted an altered line from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “A Cloud in Trousers,” saying "Hey, sky, take off your hat! I'm coming!” Tereshkova spent three days in space, circling the Earth 48 times and flying half a million kilometres before returning safe and sound.

She didn't warn her relatives about her historic flight, instead saying that she was going to parachutists' contest. They only knew what she had done once they heard about it on the radio.

According to doctors, Tereshkova endured the flight quite well, although there were "vegetative health changes."

Tereshkova never went into space again but she travelled the globe demonstrating the achievements of Soviet science. Tereshkova is now a deputy of the Russian State Duma and she has been awarded with a variety of medals and certificates, both domestic and foreign, for services to the state, public activity and contributions to astronautics. Streets, schools and even a crater on the Moon have been named in her honour while a minor planet was designated Chaika after her callsign.