The Latymer School History Magazine - page 21

into space. Despite this
being a rather long shot, she
and Gagarin did have
something fundamental in
common; they were both
from working-class
backgrounds and the Central
Committee, the highest
policy-making government
authority, was keen to find a
proletarian heroine.
Khrushchev wanted to show
the people of the USSR and
the world that anyone was
able to pilot a spaceship,
regardless of their gender
and social status. On the 19
th
of November 1962, the final
selection for the first woman
in space took place, and
Tereshkova trained with four
other women before Nikita
Khrushchev, the soviet leader
at that time, made the final
decision. He is said to have
liked Tereshkova’s ‘dark eyes’
and ‘plump cheeks’ and saw
her as propaganda potential
for the USSR. The trip was
extremely classified, to the
extent that Tereshkova
couldn’t even tell her own
mother about her once in a
lifetime opportunity. On the
16
th
of June 1963 Tereshkova
piloted Vostok 6 and spent
three days orbiting the earth
before returning.
So why was she so
important? She was, after
the first satellite, animal and
man, the first woman in
space, which contributed
greatly towards gender
equality, but she was also a
key character in an arena just
as important as outer space;
international politics. At the
time of Tereshkova’s space
mission the USSR were in the
middle of the Cold War- a
long period of tension
between the two
superpowers the USA and
USSR - and, more related to
Tereshkova, the Space Race,
which was the competition
between the USA and USSR
regarding achievements in
space exploration. By
sending the first woman into
space, the USSR was able to
gain leverage in the Space
Race, therefore putting them
ahead of the USA.
Khrushchev saw the
marketing potential
Tereshkova had; she was
from a working-class
background, she was good
looking and was also very
eloquent in her support for
the communist party, exactly
the things Khrushchev
needed to create the perfect
national heroine, and to take
the next step forward in
space exploration, ahead of
the USA.
After her return from space, a
national heroine was exactly
what she became. She
returned to the textiles
factory where she had
worked in an open-air truck
laden with flowers and was
treated as if she was royalty;
in the Space Race she had
become a symbol of gender
equality. Postage stamps
were printed with her face on
them, songs were sung in
her honour and a new
planetarium was built in her
home town, which had a
huge stained-glass portrait
of her features in the
entrance, where she wore
her space helmet like a halo.
This showed how revered
she was by the people of her
home town and all over the
USSR, as they saw her as an
almost saint-like figure. After
her space journey,
Tereshkova became a
national heroine but also
national property - almost
Khrushchev’s property. He
organised for her to be
married to another astronaut,
Andriyan Nikolayev, and
gave her away at a state
organised wedding. When
the couple eventually
wanted a divorce, they
needed permission from
Brezhnev- the soviet leader
at that time.
However, behind the
propaganda and trumpeting
of gender equality, there
have always been doubts
about Tereshkova’s
leadership of the space
mission. There have been
rumours of her complaining
of nausea whilst orbiting and
also managing to miss a
check in with ground control
due to over sleeping.
Scientists at the Soviet space
programme headquarters
were reportedly very critical
of her performance,
insinuating that despite the
show of gender equality, the
male-dominated field
remained somewhat hostile.
There is also the fact that
after Tereshkova, there was a
time lapse of 20 years before
the next Russian woman was
sent into space. In my
opinion, regardless of
whether the trip was a
success or not, the fact still
remains that she managed to
do it, which is an incredible
feat even if she did have
problems during the flight.
But, Tereshkova appears to
be a very elusive character
and has done barely
anything to quell rumours
and speculations over the
years.
Today, Tereshkova is well into
her 70’s but her ambition
and drive doesn’t seem to
have diminished; she is an
active member of the Duma -
Russia’s parliament - and is
the deputy chairman of its
Foreign Affairs Commission.
She has not only become an
icon of gender equality, but
also contributed greatly
towards the USSR’s efforts to
come out top in the Space
Race, and perhaps the Cold
War. Tereshkova’s passion for
out-of-this-world exploration
is still as strong, as she has
let it be known that she too
would like to be a proud
winner of a one-way ticket to
Mars, which I suppose, is the
modern day equivalent of
‘simply’ orbiting the Earth,
and Valentina Tereshkova
wants to be a part of the new
era of space exploration.
Again!
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