Valentina Tereshkova as she prepares to board the Vostok 6 in 1963.
Born in 1937, Valentina Tereshkova had no idea where life would take her. The daughter of a tractor driver and textile worker, Valentina was only enrolled in school for 8 years before circumstances forced her to begin working in the textile factories. Yet that didn’t stop Valentina’s desire for a better life.
Valentina continued her education via correspondence courses and soon found a hobby she loved: parachute jumping. Her passion soon led to her selection as a Soviet cosmonaut, to participate as one of four women contending for the woman-in-space program. Her training went quickly, and in June of 1963, Valentina became the first woman in space, during a solo flight aboard the Vostok 6. During the nearly 71 hours she spent in space, Valentina orbited Earth 48 times.
When she landed back on Earth, Valentina was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Although she never flew again, Valentina became a spokeswoman for the Soviet Union, eventually receiving the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace. She then became chair of the Soviet Committee for Women from 1968 to 1987, and headed the Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Co-operation.
In 2000, at the age of 63, the International Women of the Year Association awarded Valentina the Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century award. To this day, Valentina remains the only woman in the world to have carried out a solo flight into space for three days.
Valentina showed girls, both in the Soviet Union and internationally, that just because you’re born into small circumstances means doesn’t mean that your life needs to be small. Valentina rose from her family’s simple life to one of greatness: affecting change by turning her passion into her career, and then into a means by which to advocate for peace and international cooperation to the world.