60 years ago today, the Soviet Union astonished the world:
RADIO MOSCOW: This is Radio Moscow. For the first time in history, a woman has gone up into outer space. A Soviet citizen, Tereshkova.
Valentina Tereshkova was a 26-year-old textile worker. She was picked by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev, who was a master of space propaganda. It was the height of the Cold War, and space travel was a powerful symbol of national power. Every space flight was held up as an indicator of a superior way of life.
Only a few astronauts and cosmonauts had left Earth by then — all of them men. Sending a woman into orbit was designed to show that the Soviet space program was more advanced than the American one.
Khruschev himself selected Tereshkova to fly solo aboard the Vostok 6 capsule. Another cosmonaut was already in orbit, aboard Vostok 5. The two craft briefly passed within three miles of each other. That was trumpeted as a major accomplishment as well.
Tereshkova spent three days in space, during which she talked to Khruschev by radio. After returning to Earth, she was awarded the Order of Lenin and became a goodwill ambassador.
Tereshkova later was elected to the Russian parliament. But she never flew in space again. Neither did any other woman for almost 20 years. Today, more than 70 women have entered orbit. And female astronauts are training for trips to the Moon — extending the path laid by Valentina Tereshkova.
Script by Damond Benningfield