On June 16, 1963 and June 18, 1983 respectively, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride became the first woman and first American woman to enter space. Taking the leap into the cosmos 20 years apart, these two women left a profound impact on the history of space exploration.
Valentina Tereshkova hailed from a humble background and worked in a textile factory and was an amateur parachutist before her historic mission. Selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, Tereshkova was chosen for her space mission for her physical fitness, technical aptitude, and unwavering determination. During her three-day Vostok 6 mission, Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times. Her journey shattered the notion that space travel was a male domain. She paved the way for future generations of female astronauts and inspired women to pursue careers in science and space exploration.
Two decades later, Sally Ride embarked on her own journey to the stars. Ride possessed an exceptional intellect and a passion for science. In 1978, she was among the first six women selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps. On June 18, 1983, aboard the Challenger space shuttle, Sally Ride became the first American woman to venture into space. Over the course of her missions, Ride spent 343 hours in space, contributed to vital scientific research, and demonstrated the capabilities of women in the demanding environment of space.
Both Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride dedicated their lives to advancing science and education and promoting gender equality. Tereshkova became a prominent figure in Soviet politics who championed women’s rights, supporting initiatives for gender equality in the workforce and advocating for increased opportunities for women in science and technology. After leaving NASA, Ride became a professor of physics and founded the organization Sally Ride Science, which aimed to inspire young girls and other underrepresented communities to pursue careers in STEM.
As Gloria Steinem said, these women allowed “millions of little girls [to] sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers, and scientists.”
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