The name Yuri Gagarin is known throughout the world as the first man to orbit the Earth. His historic flight took place on 12 April 1961 aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft.

Less well known, however, is Valentina Tereshkova, the Soviet cosmonaut who became the first woman in space on 16 June 1963 aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft.

Valentina was 26 years old at the time and her mission lasted almost three days, during which she orbited the Earth 48 times.

Tereshkova was born on 6 March 1937 in Bolshoye Máslennikovo in the Soviet Union (now Russia). After this mission, Valentina Tereshkova remained a leading figure in cosmonautics and Soviet politics. She was a member of the Soviet Parliament and the Communist Party. Her achievement as the first woman in space made her a symbol of the Soviet Union’s space achievements during the Cold War.

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was also the first civilian to go into space, although she was accepted as an honorary member of the Soviet Air Force.

Before becoming a cosmonaut, Tereshkova worked in a textile factory and was also an amateur parachutist. She was selected for the Soviet space programme because of her skill as a parachutist and her commitment to the Communist Party.

After her space mission, Tereshkova became active in politics and diplomacy. She became a prominent figure, holding various political positions and representing the country at many international events.

Throughout her life, Tereshkova received numerous awards and honours in both the Soviet Union and Russia. Her name and achievement as the first woman in space continue to be celebrated in the history of space exploration and the struggle for gender equality.

Recently, at the age of 76, she volunteered to travel to Mars if given the opportunity. She ran with the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Valentina Tereshkova not only marked a significant milestone in the space race, but also inspired many women and men to follow their dreams and explore new frontiers in space and beyond.