Last updated June 28, 2018 at 9:51 am
On 16 June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first female to ever fly in space during the Vostok 6 mission.
Valentina Tereshkova immediately became a worldwide household name by becoming the first woman in space on this day in 1963.
Launching from Baikonur in the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova with the callsign “Seagull” orbited Earth onboard the Vostok spacecraft for 3 days, returning to the Altai region on 19 June 1963.
The mission gathered the first data on the effects of space on female physiology, and like other missions Tereshkova kept a log book and took photographs during the mission, in addition to manually controlling her spacecraft.
Some of Tereshkova’s photographs were valuable in identifying layers of aerosols in the atmosphere.
Additionally, while in orbit Soviet television broadcast footage from within the capsule, and she talked with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the radio.
During the mission there were attempts to communicate between two spacecraft in orbit simultaneously – Tereshkova in Vostok 6 and Valery “Hawk” Bykovsky in Vostok 5 completing a five-day mission programme.
“Seagull… Seagull… I am the hawk requesting communication,” called Bykovsky according to transmissions intercepted at Woomera.
Tereshkova’s reply was very faint “I am the Seagull. I am the Seagull.”
Obviously battling poor radio transmission, Bykovsky called again “I am the Hawk for communication, Seagull… have not understood…have not understood. Who is talking to the Hawk? I am the Hawk on reception…”
Despite these mixed intercepts by Woomera, the two spacecraft established and maintained communications for an extended period of time.
“She is singing me songs,” Bykovsky reported, but he was unable to see Vostok 6.
Tereshkova also reported contact with Vostok 5, and identified a bright point of light in the sky which she thought could have been Bykovsky’s capsule.
Coming to within 5km of each other, the two capsules eventually drifted apart and lost contact.
In the years following the mission, claims began emerging that the mission was not a success.
Claims that Tereshkova became ill on board and failed to carry out many tasks was incorrect, she claims in an enlightening interview with The Guardian. In fact, the mission was extended from 1 day to 3 at her request, and her illness was no more than what was expected.
Tereshkova also reported discomfort during the mission from her helmet, and irritation from her radio headwear. However, Bykovsky made similar complaints during the Vostok 5 debrief.
Additionally, claims of insubordination and failing to follow orders were also false. Instead, she says she identified a mistake in the programming of the re-entry profile that would have carried her out into space rather than back to Earth. Ground control calculated new parameters, which she changed on board to achieve a safe re-entry. This mistake however was kept secret for years afterwards to prevent embarrassment for the Soviet space program, and to protect the person who made the mistake. That person’s death finally meant she was able to speak freely, but long after incorrect rumours had been circulating.