On June 16, 1963, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
In the 60s, cosmonauts had to eject from their landing capsules at 20,000 feet during reentry and parachute to earth. A skydiving enthusiast with over 100 jumps, Tereshkova was well equipped to handle the task. After 18 months of training, Tereshkova spent more than 70 hours in space aboard the Vostok 6 — more than any other human at the time.
During her 70.8 hour flight, she made 48 orbits around the Earth, and still today she remains the youngest woman to fly in space (she was 26 years old) and the only one to fly a solo space mission.
After her Vostok mission, she never flew again.
The 1960s would take space exploration from a dream to a reality as the Space Race pitted the United States against their Cold War antagonist the Soviet Union. While the U.S. would indeed meet President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing an American on the moon before 1970 (though he wouldn’t live to see it) and, as a bonus, beat the Soviets to the moon, there was one critical way the Americans fell behind: including women in the space program.
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, wouldn’t make her first space flight until 20 years after the Soviets sent women into space.
Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union and, later that year, she married astronaut Andriyan Nikolayev. Their daughter Elena, was a subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena grew up to be a healthy adult and became a doctor, but the effect of space travel on the human reproductive system remains of keen interest to scientists as humans plan deeper excursions into space.