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Starts With A Bang

The first woman in space turned 80, and you probably never heard of her

20 years before Sally Ride, Valentina Tereshkova set the bar. She’s still amazing after more than 50 years.

“A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” –Valentina Tereshkova

On June 18, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched Sally Ride — the first female American astronaut — into space.

The Vostok 6 capsule that served as Valentina Tereshkova’s home for 3 days in 1963. Image credit: Andrew Gray of Wikimedia Commons.

But that came a full 20 years after Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s pioneering voyage.

The launch of Vostok 6, with Valentina Tereshkova aboard. Image credit: Roskosmos.

On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova piloted Vostok 6, completing 48 orbits around Earth during her three day mission.

Tereshkova has been continuously popular and regarded as a national hero by every Russian and Soviet leader, from Khrushchev to the present. Image credit: Reuters/Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool.

It was her expertise in skydiving, obtained through the local Aeroclub starting at age 22, that led to her selection.

Hero of the Soviet Union Valentina Tereshkova, first woman cosmonaut in the world and USSR Pilot Cosmonaut, presenting a badge to U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong in memory of his visit to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City. Image credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #501531 / Yuryi Abramochkin / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Her flight into space, at age 26, is still the record for youngest female astronaut/cosmonaut.

Astronaut Cady Coleman, Expedition 26 flight engineer, meets with Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space, in December 2010. Image credit: NASA / Mike Fossum.

Aboard Vostok 6, her rendezvous with Vostok 5 cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky made them the first cosmonauts aboard different vessels to communicate in space.

Nikita Khrushchev (right), first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, and cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova, Pavel Popovich (center) and Yuri Gagarin at the Lenin Mausoleum during a demonstration dedicated to the successful space flights of the Vostok-5 (Valery Bykovsky) and Vostok-6 (Valentina Tershkova) spacecraft. Image credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #159271 / V. Malyshev / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

In cosmonaut history, only Yuri Gagarin and Alexey Leonov are more revered.

A man kisses hand of Soviet cosmonaut, the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, as he walks in Star City outside Moscow on June 7, 2013. Photo credit: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP / Getty Images.

When journalists questioned the hardiness of Sally Ride’s body for spaceflight, Tereshkova publicly rebuked such sexist claims.

Valentina Tereshkova, pictured as a Major in the Soviet Air Forces back in 1969. Image credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #612748 / Alexander Mokletsov / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Honorarily inducted into the Air Force so she could join the Cosmonaut Corps, she obtained the rank of Major General by her 1997 retirement.

Soviet and Bulgarian politicians waving from a balcony (L-R) Stanko Todorov, Andrian Nikolayev, Todor Zhivkov, Valentina Tereshkova and Georgi Traikov. Picture dates from 1971; Tereshkova is still politically active today. Photo credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Today, March 6th, marks her 80th birthday. A prominent political figure, she still serves in the State Duma within the Russian legislature.

Valentina Tereshkova was awarded the Order of Friendship by then-president Dmitry Medvedev on April 12, 2011. Image credit: Presidential Press and Information Office from Russia, via

In 2013, she declared she’d still lead a one-way trip to Mars, if the opportunity arose.

Soviet cosmonaut Dr Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, (L) and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev speak to members of the media in front of the Vostok 6 capsule in London on September 17, 2015. Photo credit: Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of an astronomical event, object, person or phenomenon in pictures, visuals and no more than 200 words.

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