Tereshkova Ready for One-Way Trip to Mars

Tereshkova Ready for One-Way Trip to Mars

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space 50 years ago this month, wants to be on the first crew to go to Mars even though she assumes there will be no coming back.

Tereshkova, now 76, made history on June 16, 1963 when she was launched into space by the Soviet Union aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft.   During her three-day mission, she made several close passes with another Soviet spacecraft, Vostok 5, carrying cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovski who had launched two days earlier.  The mission was somewhat of a repeat of co-orbital operations accomplished the previous August with Vostok 3 and 4.  This mission stood out because of Tereshkova claiming another space “first” for the Soviet Union in the heated Space Race era (and Bykovskiy won the record for longest spaceflight at the time, almost 5 days).   

The 50th anniversary of Tereshkova’s flight is about to be celebrated by the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna, Austria.  It is sponsoring an event on June 13 featuring Tereshkova and the first women in space from Canada (Roberta Bondar), Japan (Chiaki Mukai) and China (Liu Yang), as well as U.S. astronaut Janet Kavandi.  America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride, died last year.

In an interview reported by Russia’s RIA Novosti news service today, Tereshkova said that “of course, it’s a dream to go to Mars and find out whether there was life there or not” and if there was, what happened to it.  RIA Novosti did not quote her using these words, but the reporter said that Tereshkova thought the first trip to Mars would be a “suicide trip,” but she is ready to volunteer nonetheless.  She also objected to the idea of space tourism, arguing that spaceflight should be reserved for specialists because “there is still a lot that hasn’t been studied.”

Being “first” was an important criterion for both the U.S. and Soviet space programs at that time.   That Tereshkova’s flight was just one more such exercise for the Soviets rather than a commitment to including women on space crews is evidenced by the fact that in the subsequent 50 years, only two other Soviet women have made spaceflights:  Svetlana Savitskaya (1982 and 1984, in both cases to the Salyut 7 space station) and Yelena Kondakova (1994 to the Mir space station, and 1997 on STS-84).   Savitskaya’s 1982 flight took place just before the United States launched its first woman  into space (Ride, in 1983).  On her second flight, Savitskaya became the first woman to make a spacewalk — just months before Kathy Sullivan was to become the first American woman to accomplish that feat (also in 1984).

Though it took the United States 20 years longer to launch its first woman into space, Ride’s launch heralded an era where women on spaceflights has become so routine that few take notice.   U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg just launched to the International Space Station last week, for example.   Two American women astronauts have commanded the ISS (Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams) and others commanded space shuttle missions.   Other countries also have multiple women astronauts and rumors are that a second Chinese woman will be among the crew for China’s space station launch coming up in the next week or so.  

Meanwhile, Russia has not announced when another Russian woman will make a spaceflight, but no one can deny that it was the first to do so.

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