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Her Call Sign Was 'The Seagull'

By Edited Jun 5, 2014 3 6

Voice on the air

I still hear the clear female voice reaching from far away, breaking through the cacophony of strange noise and sounds - 'Ya Chayka...Ya Chayka' (I'm the Seagull... I'm the Seagull)... She was pronouncing every word distinctively, 'The flight is going on normally...' in a business-like and serious tone... 'All the systems are functioning smoothly...' with joyful courage... 'I'm feeling well'. Even now, 48 years later, we can hardly imagine the state and emotions of VALENTINA TERESHKOVA, a brave woman of 27, the first female-cosmonaut in the world. A few minutes before the launch, realizing the critical moment and trying to suppress the agitation, she looked upward from the launchpad, all of a sudden remembered Vladimir Mayakovsky's verse and said 'Hey, the sky! Take off the hat!'  This event happened on 16 June 1963 when the first woman-cosmonaut in the world flew into the space.

I'm the Seagull - Birthplace and childhood

Valentina was born on 6 March,1937 in the remote suburbs of Yaroslavl, the ancient Russian town on Volga river that is currently included into the UNESCO Heritage list and the national touristic map 'Golden Ring'. The town, about 280 km north-east from Moscow, was founded by the Great Duke Yaroslav the Wise in the 11th century, and Yaroslavl celebrated the 1000th anniversary in 2010.

The village where Valentina was living with her father - a tractor driver, mother - a milkmaid, elder sister and younger brother was a traditional northern settlement of private households comfortable enough for frosty, long winters and hot, short summers. When she was 3, her father missed at the Finno-Soviet War of 1939-1940 (he was one of over 270,000 Russian casualties during the five-month Winter War), and her mother, aged 26, left alone with three little kids on hands. Valentina remembered that it was icy cold to embrace the mom when she came back from the milk farm, as the wet clothes used to freeze on the way home. Soon, the family left the village and moved to Yaroslavl to the grandmother's house located in the long 8 March Street. In the next years, only two men from this street returned home from the battle fields of the WW2, and 8 March street started to be unofficially named Widow street. In Yaroslavl, Valentina entered the primary, then the secondary school but failed to finish the latter as she had to support the mother and the family. At the age of 17 she began working at the textile factory and completed the secondary education visiting the evening classes. Later, she entered and finished the professional Light Industry college.   

The flight is going on normally - the first step to the sky

In 1950s, the movement of supporting DOSAAF (National Voluntary Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) became very popular among the young people in the USSR, and Valentina, being active and enthusiastic by nature, joined the local Aviation Club to learn sky diving. In May 1959, she made her first jump into the sky, later the number of jumps increased up to 163 and finally Valentina got the first grade in parachute sport. Afterwards, she was so inspired by this passion that organized and headed a Parachute Club at the textile factory. In 1960, Valentina started the political career when she was elected the secretary of Komsomol (Young Communist League) but didn't drop sky diving.

All the systems are functioning smoothly - months of training

In February 1962, Valentina was chosen as one of five other female candidates to the cosmonauts team and commissioned like all the women pilot as a junior lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force. So, the months of intensive training began, the pre-flight program was full of the physical training, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, weightless flights, thermocamera test (+70-AC, humidity 30%), isolation and centrifuge tests, parachute jumps, jet fighter pilot training.  The flight on the ship Vostok 6 supposed to record the body's reaction to being in space and to fulfill the other tasks.

I'm feeling well - stepping out into the unknown

How can one feel aboard if a plane is falling down in turbulence for over two days? How can one feel being dressed in a tight spacesuit with a heavy helmet on one's head and shoulders and strapped immobile to the seat, again for over two days? How can one feel having assignments to complete despite the lack of air, nausea, isolation and physical discomfort during the two-day flight? Sure, the cosmonauts are intensively trained before flights, moreover, every pilot has a strong natural constitution to endure pain, irritants and whatever. But for a civilian it is not so easy. Valentina bravely stepped into the unknown and overcame all the difficulties. Flying single, she managed to carry out the flight program to the end, to maintain a flight log, to take photographs and to orient the spacecraft.

After the flight    

Monument 'To Conquerors of Space' in moscow

Triumph was waiting for Valentina upon returning to the earth, though landing was rather heavy. News immediately flew round the world, radio kept giving the information every half an hour. She met the enthusiastic reception of the people, heard impassioned addresses of  the leaders, got the Hero Stars, numerous supreme national and international awards, including the award 'The Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century', faced welcome ceremonies at the highest level. Her private life also changed: in November 1963 she married a cosmonaut Andrian Nilolayev, the next year gave birth to a daughter. In 1964 she entered the Military Air Academy and got a diploma of an engineer, later earned a doctorate degree in engineering and became a professor. Valentina had worked in the Space Centre untill 1997 being an instructor-cosmonaut, after 1997 - as a senior researcher. She retired from the military service as a major-general. Alongside with the responsibilities in the Space Centre, Valentina has been holding various political and international positions. Nowadays, being 74 she doesn't give up the active life, keeping her natural strength of will and spirit. VALENTINA TERESHKOVA - the first woman in the space.



Jul 2, 2011 11:31pm
Great reminder about her fantastic feat of being the first woman to go into space.
Jul 2, 2011 11:32pm
Great reminder about her fantastic feat of being the first woman to go into space.
Jul 3, 2011 1:13am
Thank you. There's always someone who takes the first step into the unknown and lets others follow.
Jul 3, 2011 4:09am
What's interesting about this is how much we have all probably forgotten how heated the "Space Race" was during the bad old days of the Cold War. However, those "bad old days" probably saw more in space exploration than anything since those times (remeber Sputnik? That little piece of space junk is what finally got the U.S. off its duff to get out there, too).

As a guy who loves history, thanks NDony!
Jul 3, 2011 4:10am
I forgot to mention I love women, too, so you got my two favorite things nailed together in one article!!
Jul 3, 2011 6:58am
Many thanks. Just recalled an event happened long ago. Two little boys aged 6-9 and I suddenly stuck in a lift somewhere between the fifth and the forth floors. My efforts to contact a duty technician or to call somebody from outside failed, so the boys looked frighted and started weeping. By the way, I was a bit scared too. What could stop this panic on board? - Something inspiring! Then I said, 'Why? Cosmonauts are flying in space having no fear and we are afraid of being on the ground!' The next moment the boys stopped crying, unbent their backs and looked at me with dignity. A few minutes later the technician came and released us.
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