50 years ago, Valentina Tereshkova became first woman in space
Moscow: On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space in a scientific feat that was a major propaganda coup for the Soviet Union.
Two years after Yuri Gagarin`s historic first manned flight, Tereshkova blasted off in a Vostok-6 spaceship, becoming a national heroine at the age of 26.
She remains the only woman ever to have made a solo space flight.
In April 1962, officials narrowed down the candidates for the flight to five. In a top-secret process, they picked two engineers, one school teacher, one typist and one factory worker who had performed 90 parachute jumps: this was Tereshkova.
After seven months of intensive training, they chose Tereshkova, who grew up in a peasant family and was a Communist Youth (Komsomol) leader at her textile factory in the historic city of Yaroslavl, around 280 kilometres from Moscow.
Tereshkova was not allowed to confide even in family members, who only learnt of her exploit when Moscow announced it to the entire world.
When she blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, another Soviet spaceship, Vostok-5, was already in orbit for two days, piloted by cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky.
During her three-day mission, Tereshkova circled Earth 48 times. On the first day, she communicated with Bykovsky and even sang him songs. Their communication was then interrupted as the two spaceships moved further away from each other.
Her flight experienced numerous glitches which were only made public after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"A problem appeared on the first day of the flight," Tereshkova said at a press conference in Star City, home to a cosmonaut training centre, earlier this month.
"Due to a technical error, the spaceship was programmed not for a landing but for taking the ship into a higher orbit," she said, meaning that the ship was heading further and further from Earth.
The error was corrected, but chief constructor Sergei Korolyov asked Tereshkova not to tell anyone.
"I kept the secret for 30 years," she said.
Tereshkova wrote in her official report that her spacesuit hurt her leg and that her helmet weighed down her shoulders and scratched her head. She also said she vomited during the flight.
This information was also kept under wraps in order not to spoil the triumph of the first woman in space.
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