The Guardian • Issue #2061

Tereshkova first woman in space

Eradicating Soviet scientific achievements

Tereshkova in space helmet.

Tereshkova. Photo: New Mexico Museum of Space History.

On 16th June 1963, at the age of 26, Valentina V Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space, a major Soviet engineering and social accomplishment. Her solo mission onboard the Vostok 6, orbited the Earth forty-eight times, during three days. Tereshkova remains today the only woman to have been on a solo space mission. At the time NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was against sending women into space. They are only now training an all-women space flight.

Tereshkova was a textile factory worker before joining the Air Force as part of the Cosmonaut Corps. She was a member of the Communist Party, a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1974 to 1989. She remained politically active following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today Tereshkova is rarely mentioned in the US media, being largely written out of the US’s version of the history of space exploration. Soviet achievements have been virtually eradicated from history in the US popular press, seeing only the USA as having made any scientific strides in space. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was far ahead of NASA, having made numerous technical achievements under its five-year plans.

On 4th October 1957, the first intercontinental missile, R-7 Semyorka, launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, sparking the Space Race between the USA and the USSR. The first animal, Laika the dog, was launched into an Earth orbit in 1957. Yuri Gagarin was the first person in space in 1961. Two years later, Tereshkova became the first woman in space. The USSR made the first spacewalk in 1965, with other great scientific and technical achievements to follow.

Ten years before the US’s famous Moon landing on 20th July 1969, the Soviets were the first to reach the surface of the Moon in 1959, using computerised robots to explore its surface. The USSR recorded the first image of the far side of the Moon and in 1966 achieved the first space rover deployment, the Lunokhod programme. In 1970 it sent the first robotic probe that automatically extracted lunar soil samples, which were brought back to Earth aboard Luna 16. The Soviet space programme sent the first probes to Venus in 1971 and Mars in 1975, years before similar US achievements. The USSR put the first space station, Salyut 1, into low Earth orbit in 1971 and set up the first modular space station, Mir, in 1986.

The USA no longer has a space shuttle to reach orbits, the last being in 2011. Instead it relies on Russia. At present there are two low Earth orbit stations, the International Space Station (run by the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe), and China’s Tiangong Space Station. Russia provides the propulsion for the International Space Station and the resupply cargo spacecraft.

These great socialist achievements are downplayed by the US government and the American media, which see them as a direct threat to their mindless adoration of capitalism and their staunch anti-Communist beliefs.

After the horrors of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, the Soviet state poured massive investments and planning into the sciences, including exploration and nuclear power. Contrary to the myth that competition can only exist in a capitalist society, the Soviet space program was spurred on by competition between internally competing design bureaus.

The USSR made massive strides in the arts, ballet, circuses, gymnastics, weight lifting, chess, and classical music, to become the world leader in numerous fields of endeavour. It made great innovations, such as experimenting with orchestras without conductors. The Soviet Union ended the periodic famines that had plagued Russia for centuries under the Czars. Men and women were lifted out of poverty, with peasants becoming top engineers and scientists.

At the same time, the USA was restricting women’s entry into the sciences and American society was dominated by racial segregation until the late 1960s, something it still grapples with. Today, Russia, under capitalism, is a shadow of its former self. In the 1960s, developing countries looked to the USSR on how to develop their economies and societies under scientific socialism.

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