On June 16, 1963, at the age of 26, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. Before becoming a cosmonaut, Tereshkova was a textile factory worker and avid skydiver. Her three-day mission was the 12th human spaceflight in history, following several Russian Vostok and American Mercury flights.
Strapped to her ejection seat, Tereshkova rode inside the 7.5-foot-wide (2.3 meters) pressurized cabin of Vostok-6. She was carried into orbit by an R-7 booster rocket. R-7, the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, was originally developed in the 1950s to carry nuclear bombs halfway around the world. A modified version launched Sputnik-1 into orbit in 1957.
Tereshkova’s SK-2 space suit was similar to the SK-1 worn by Yuri Gagarin, but modified for a female. Unlike suits for space walking, the SK suits were only meant to be pressurized in an emergency, when cabin pressure was lost.
Vostoks 5 and 6 were originally intended to be a dual mission piloted by women. Ultimately, the mission was carried out by a man and a woman. The two spacecraft approached to 3 miles (5 kilometers) of each other but drifted apart as they orbited.
After 48 orbits, Tereshkova used manual controls to hold Vostok steady while firing the rocket engine to drop out of orbit. After re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, she ejected from the falling spacecraft and descended using her own parachute.