On this day in 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. Chosen from more than four hundred applicants (and five finalists), she was selected to pilot Vostok 6, a one-person space capsule. Before her recruitment, she was a textile worker who skydived as a hobby. To become a member of the Cosmonaut Corps, she was actually honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force, and as such was also the first civilian to fly in space. She was in space for three days, during which time she took photographs, oriented the space capsule, maintained a flight log, and completed a total of 48 orbits of the Earth. The photographs she took on this mission were later used to identify aerosol layers in the atmosphere.
When the female cosmonauts were dissolved in 1969 she ended up becoming a member of the Communist Party and remained politically active through the collapse of the Soviet Union; to this day she is still regarded as a hero in post-Soviet Russia. Now 79 years old, she carried the Olympic flag in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and also recently offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars, if the opportunity presented itself.
On this day in 2012, Liu Yang became the first Chinese woman in space, as a crew member of the Shenzhou 9 mission. She was born in Zhengzhou, Henan in 1978, graduated from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Aviation College of Changchun, and joined the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in 1997. She is an experienced pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience, who became the deputy head of her flight unit, and held the PLAAF rank of Major. Liu was chosen as a candidate for the astronaut corps after two years of training. She was then selected for the crew of Shenzou 9 for the first manned mission to China’s first space station Tiangong 1, along with Jing Haipeng (a man, and the first repeat Chinese space traveler), and Liu Wang (a male Chinese pilot). The mission launched on this day in 2012, 49 years to the day that Valentine Tereskova launched to space as the first ever female space traveler. During her own mission, Liu performed space medicine experiments.
(‘Fun’ fact: Liu is married, something that is “preferred” for Chinese astronauts, as they believe spaceflight could “potentially harm women’s fertility” and that “married women would be more physically and psychologically mature”. Originally people thought this was a requirement by the Chinese Astronaut Centre, but they denied that and said it was a “preference” instead.)