By the mid-80s, female astronauts had become more prominent, amongst them Sally Ride the first American woman in space, Helen Sharman the first British female astronaut and Eileen Collins, the first female pilot and commander of a Space Shuttle. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams holds the record for longest single spaceflight for a woman (192 days), total spacewalks for a woman (seven) and the most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 mins).
June 16th marks the day that the first woman flew into space. 50 years ago this weekend, Valentina Tereshkova flew on the USSR spacecraft Vostok 6, 2 years after Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 pioneering spaceflight.
The aim of her flight was to test whether the female body was able to survive in zero gravity as well as determining whether a woman could pilot a spacecraft. Following her 70.8 hour flight, Valentina never flew again but has become a symbol for women around the world who are inspired to follow in her footsteps.
The plethora of notable female astronauts that there now are serve as role models for the younger generation to look up. to and identify with. They are demonstrations of the exploration of space by both men and women as something achievable and most importantly, necessary for the future of our species. My personal role models are Nicole Stott whom I had the chance to meet last year and Sunita Williams (who is on my list of people to meet)!
To this day, Valentina Tereshkova remains as the only woman to have made a solo space flight. At 76 years old, she is now willing to make a one-way trip to Mars, her favourite planet. It is this courage, determination and love of exploration that I believe will enable women from all backgrounds to believe in themselves and work towards achieving similar and inevitably greater success.
The 50th woman in space, astronaut Karen Nyberg who’s currently aboard the International Space Station has commemorated this special weekend dedicated to Valentina and females working in and towards the space industry in the video below: