In 1961, after Yuri Gagarin had beaten the Americans to become the first man in space, the Soviets decided to also go for the accolade of first woman in space. Tereshkova was selected out of 400 applicants, largely due to her parachuting experience, to train for a mission into space in 1963.
Valentina Tereshkova was born in 1937 in a village 270 kilometres from Moscow. Her parents had migrated from Belarus. Her father was a sergeant in the Soviet Army who died during World War II when she was two years old.
After school, Valentina worked at a tyre factory and a textile mill, but continued her education by correspondence courses to graduate from the Light Industry Technical School in 1960. She also became interested in parachuting from a young age, and trained in skydiving at the local Aeroclub, training as a competitive parachutist. From a pool of 400 candidates, Valentina was one of 5 selected to join the cosmonaut corps.
At the age of just 26, aboard the Vostok 6, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova made history for Russia by becoming the first woman to orbit the earth.
She took pictures of the planet and the moon, and logged reports of the physical effects of spaceflight. Having orbited Earth 48 times, she remains the only woman ever to have been on a solo space mission, spending almost three days in space. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.
After her flight, Tereshkova graduated with distinction as a cosmonaut engineer and earned a doctorate in engineering. Due to her prominence, she was chosen for several political positions and also became a well-known representative of the Soviet Union abroad.