First woman in space turns 80

Russia has honoured the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who recalled tense moments of her pioneering mission on her 80th birthday.

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Soviet officials at the time said the 1963 mission went without a hitch, and only a few years ago Tereshkova first spoke about a technical glitch that could have left her stranded in space.

“When the spacecraft reached the orbit, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to return to Earth because the ship was programed to move to a higher orbit instead of deorbiting,” Tereshkova said in remarks broadcast by Channel 1 television. “I reported the situation to the mission control, they told me how to change the parameters and everything went on without trouble.”

Soviet space officials started planning for a space mission by a woman soon after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly to space on April, 12 1961, seeing it as a way to cement the nation’s lead in a race for space supremacy against the United States.

Tereshkova, a textile factory worker who liked parachute jumps, was chosen for the flight after a rigorous selection from hundreds of candidates. While heading to the launch pad, she told her relatives that she was going to attend a parachute competition – a reflection of deep secrecy that surrounded the Soviet space program.

The three-day mission made her an instant global celebrity and a poster figure for Soviet space glory. Tereshkova received a hero’s welcome after the flight and was showered with awards and honorary titles.

“It was hard, but we realised that we were working to make the country’s glory shine and prevent the competitors from thrusting ahead,” Tereshkova said on Monday. “It was a great happiness to be the first in space.”

Her birthday led the news on national television.

President Vladimir Putin hosted Tereshkova at the Kremlin, praising her as “a role model for us and a symbol of service to the Fatherland.”

Tereshkova is still a member of the Russian parliament, serving as a deputy chair of committee for municipal issues.