Skip to comments.Valentina Tereshkova: "I almost remained in orbit"
Posted on 06/18/2013 2:19:39 PM PDT by struwwelpeter
Our country and the world marked a great moment: 50 years since the flight of the first woman in space: June 16th, 1963, by Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. At the time of her space flight she was only 26.
The first woman cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Tereshkova graduated from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy with honors, and received a PhD in technical sciences. She was a professor and the author of over 50 scientific papers. She holds the rank of air force major general and was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
Valentina Tereshkova has "hidden out" from journalists since the end of the 1980s, and not given a single interview. Silence was even her response to the dozens of ridiculous articles - about how she was frightened and begged to be released from the spacecraft when they battened down the hatch, about how Khrushchev made her marry third-ranked cosmonaut Andrian Nikolaev as if they were a pair of laboratory rats, or that the daughter of two cosmonauts was handicapped and being hidden from the public.
Finally, however, Seagull (Tereshkova's radio call sign in space) has broken her silence.
Why they chose a textile worker for the flight
Valentina's official biography reads that she was an ordinary girl from the village of Maslennikovo in the Yaroslavl region. Her father died at the front, while her mother raised three children by herself. At seventeen, Valya went to work at a tire factory because they needed money. On the weekends she was in a flying club and did parachute jumps. In 1962 the 25 year-old worker was selected for space flight training.
The truth is that after Gagarins flight, flying clubs throughout the nation were looking for pretty female parachutists - Khrushchev wanted a Soviet woman to be the first female in space. Valentina was by now not simply an ordinary factory worker, but secretary of the Komsomolsk (Communist Youth) organization at the Yaroslavl technical fabric combine. She was, in a word, ideologically reliable.
There were, however, "blemishes". Tereshkova's father was not killed on the German-Soviet front, but went missing during the Winter war against Finland. Not until the late 1980's did Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov help Valentina find the mass grave where Vladimir Akhenovich Tereshkov was buried.
The first group of female cosmonauts numbered five. Valentina Ponomareva and Irina Solovyova were obviously the strongest candidates. Ponomareva had a diploma from the Moscow Aviation Institute and flight experience (she had participated in nationwide competitions in flying sports). Solovyova had a degree from Ural Polytechnic Institute and was a master parachutist with more than 700 jumps.
Valya Tereshkova had no degrees, and was a beginner parachutist. She was also not very brilliant in her academic performance during training on few tests did she score "excellent". The commission selected her anyway. There are several reasons: After Gagarin's triumph it was clear that the first female cosmonaut would have to travel a lot and talk about the achievements of the Soviet system, and Valya just happened to have "Komsomolsk battle experience" in this regard. The second reason was that Korolev (the father of the Soviet space program) wanted during the next flight of a female crew to have one of the girls do a space walk. He had his eye on Solovyova and Ponomareva for such "acrobatics".
How flew she flew the wrong way
On June 14th, 1963, Vostok-5 carried Valeriy Bykovsky into orbit. The next day they planned to launch Tereshkova on Vostok-6. The girls arrived at Baikonur in brand-new lieutenant's uniforms, but then Moscow decided to drop the "militaristic touch" and so Tereshkova and the doubles rushed to change.
The launch was no problem. Recently, for the first time ever, Valentina spoke about what happened to the spaceship after reaching orbit. "There was an error in the ship's autopilot programming. It was oriented so that instead of heading down it went higher in orbit. I wasn't getting closer to Earth, but with each orbit getting farther away." Tereshkova reported this to Korolev. Only by the second day did they get new data into the system and correct the orbit.
During training, Valya easily handled the food, but during the space flight there was a problem. "Sergey Pavlovich (Korolev) asked me to not talk about it, so I have kept it secret for decades," explained Valentina Tereshkova earnestly. "But since there have been reports about this, I can now speak freely."
There were a lot of rumors that the weightlessness acted badly on Valentina, that she got sick and dizzy, and that the research program went all awry. Supposedly Korolev terminated the flight and after landing the female cosmonaut with trembling hands tried to clean up her spherical craft.
The real problems during the three-day flight, however, were quite different. Tereshkova was not allowed to remove her spacesuit during the entire flight. On the second day she got a cramp in her right calf, and by the third day the pain was too difficult to bear. Her pressure helmet pressed against her shoulders, and the sensors on her scalp started to itch terribly.
"I wanted a normal Earth food," Tereshkova admitted. "Black bread, potatoes and onions. But instead the packing list had dried bread crusts." She got sick once, but not because of vestibular balance disorders, but due to the food.
Another problem during landing
"When I ejected (Vostok cosmonauts parachuted separate from the vehicle - ed.), I was seized by a silent horror," the female cosmonaut admitted for the first time in 44 years. "Under me was a lake (the cosmonaut was unable to steer the large, heavy parachute that opened at an altitude of 4 km - ed.) My first thought was, My God, they send up a woman and now she gets dropped in the water!"
Cosmonauts were taught descents into water, but would she have the strength to stay afloat after the exhausting space flight? She got lucky and flew over the lake, but on the ground there was a strong wind and it pulled the huge canopy of parachute, and her along with it. The girl in her heavy spacesuit was ensared.
"I hit my head hard against the inside of the pressure helmet," said Tereshkova. "The parachute finally blew away, but I got a good bruise on my nose."
The doctors had to later cover up the injury - how could this beautiful girl present herself to the country's leadership wearing a "shiner"?
The wedding "from Khrushchev"
The story that Khrushchev forced Tereshkova to marry another famous cosmonaut - Andrian Nikolaev - is pure fiction. 35 year-old Andrian, a simple, rural type, had been going out with 26 year-old Valentina since before the flight. Five months after Valya's return from her stellar assignment, they married.
General Nikolai Kamanin, who supervised air force cosmonauts at Baikonur, wrote in his diary on November 10th, 1963 (a week after the wedding): "Their marriage, perhaps might be politically and scientifically useful, but I'm not sure that Valya really loves Andrian. They are too different: she is fire, and he is water. Both are energetic, strong-willed people, and neither of them will voluntarily submit to the other..."
Andrian and Valentina, however, stayed together for 19 years. A year after their wedding they had a daughter, Alena - a normal and healthy little dark-haired girl, the spitting image of her papa.
Valya was constantly on the move - sometimes abroad, sometimes touring the major cities of the Soviet Union - promoting the Soviet way of life. Andrian was getting ready for a new mission.
Since 1979, however, they rarely appeared together. There could be no question about getting an official divorce, since Andrian could be kicked out of the Cosmonaut Training Center for "amorality" (two cosmonaut candidates were actually expelled because of divorce). Valentina, chairman of the Committee of Soviet Women, might also find it unseemly to be divorced.
"My father and mother divorced when I was 18," said the cosmonauts' star child Alena Mayorova in an interview in Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Of course, I was upset about it, but I was old enough to understand their actions."
It is said that Tereshkova had to get consent for the divorce from dear Leonid Ilyich (Brezhnev) personally. These days it is difficult to imagine how much it must have taken to get such permission. How could such an exemplary pair break up? But Valya was in love.
Valya, Valentina, what now?
They met in 1978, when there was a new group of cosmonaut candidates and Tereshkova was getting a medical examination in hopes of flying again. Julius Shaposhnikov at the time was working at the Academy of Military Medicine and was a member of the medical committee checking the health of cosmonauts.
Anyone who saw Julius and Valentina together said that it was immediately clear that the two were in love. They were together for twenty years. Shaposhnikov soon became director of the Central Institute of Trauma and Orthopedics, and rose to the rank of major general.
In 1999, Julius Georgiyevich Shaposhnikov died.
Again, from her official biography: since the late 1960s Valentina Tereshkova has been involved in public work: deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, vice-president of the International Federation of Women. The "Iron Lady" - as she was known - was domineering, strong, and did not allow less than perfection in herself or her subordinates. One gets the impression that Tereshkova gladly pursued her career in the highest ranks of the Party.
For Valentina, however, the Party was burdensome load. She did not receive a cent for her public activities. All through the years she was listed specialist at the Cosmonaut Training Center and received a salary there, while still dreaming of another space flight (Andrian had two). She tried to join the cosmonaut ranks again, but after the death of Gagarin the powers that be decided to protect the "firsts", and Tereshkova was given to understand that she would never wear a spacesuit again.
"If I had the money I would be happy to go up right now," Tereshkova admitted recently. "For many years I was interested in everything related to Mars. It was the dream of the first cosmonauts - a mission to the Red Planet. Ah, if I could carry it out! I'm ready to fly there and not even come back!"
Those who know Valentina closely assert that the image of that unassailable lady in an impeccable business suit, with a strict hairstyle and carefully drawn eyeliner, has nothing to do with what goes on in the soul of this woman. For decades she has been assisting all whom she can.
Helping some to get apartments, or telephones, or arranging appointments at a good clinic. She supports two orphanages in Yaroslavl and a convent in Kolomna, where there is a shelter for homeless children.
And such is the biography of a simple Soviet woman.
FROM THE FILES:
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was the first female general in the Russian military, in the Soviet Air Force.
She has a PhD in technical sciences.
She has two grandchildren - eleven year-old Alexei and three year-old Andrei.
On the roof of her red brick country home on the outskirts of Star City is a weather vane in the form of a seagull - in memory of her radio call sign while she was flying in the cosmos.
Bumpishka. Good to see you.
A heroic woman. Kudos to her.
She was one of my heroes when I was a little girl.
Tales from the Ash Heap of History.