The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, the equivalent of an American astronaut. On June 16, 1963, she orbited the Earth while aboard Vostok 6. She made 48 orbits over nearly three days in space.
Tereshkova was born March 6, 1937 in Maslennikovo to working-class parents. Her father was killed in World War II, and Tereshkova left school at age 16 to go to work, later joining her mother at a cotton mill.
Tereshkova, who kept up her education through correspondence courses, joined the Young Communist League and soon became fascinated with parachute jumping. To further this interest, she joined the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club. Her skill at parachute jumping gained her admission into her country's space program. At the time, the Soviet space capsules crash landed on Earth, and the cosmonauts had to parachute out before the landing.
After intensive training, Tereshkova was picked to pilot Vostok 6. Though broadcasts of the cosmonaut saw her looking relaxed in the capsule, there was a problem with the navigational system. A catastrophe was avoided after Tereshkova noticed the problem and contacted her ground crew.
Tereshkova received many awards from her country, and she received the Gold Medal of Peace from the United Nations.