International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Valentina Tereshkova: The First Woman in Space


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Valentina Tereshkova, Manned mission to space

Why in the News?

On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova made history as the first woman to venture into space. Her achievement marked a significant milestone in the Space Race between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War.

About Valentina Tereshkova’s Space Journey

  • In 1962, Tereshkova was selected among five women for the Soviet space program, aiming to achieve ‘gender equality’ in space exploration.
  • The USSR’s decision to send a woman into space was partly influenced by the success of Yuri Gagarin’s mission in 1961 and the desire to surpass the US in space achievements.
  • Tereshkova’s affiliation with the Communist Party and her skills as a parachutist were factors in her selection for the Vostok 6 mission.

The Mission – Vostok 6

  • On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova piloted Vostok 6, becoming the first woman to orbit the Earth.
  • She spent 71 hours in space, completing 48 orbits around the Earth during her mission.

Impact and Legacy

  • Tereshkova’s mission boosted Soviet prestige in the Space Race, following earlier successes like launching Sputnik-1 in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961.
  • Despite her pioneering role, the USA would later achieve milestones like the Apollo moon landings, surpassing Soviet achievements in manned space missions.
  • Tereshkova continued to advocate for women’s participation in space exploration and held prominent positions in Soviet politics and the Air Force.

Indian Women in Space 

Indian women have made significant contributions to space exploration, marking milestones and inspiring future generations. Here are notable Indian women who have ventured into space:

  • Kalpana Chawla: Born in Karnal, Haryana, Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian origin in space. She flew on two Space Shuttle missions, including STS-87 in 1997. Tragically, she lost her life during the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
  • Sunita Williams: An American astronaut of Indian-Slovenian descent, Sunita Williams has set records for spacewalks and served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station (ISS). She has logged over 322 days in space across multiple missions.
  • Sirisha Bandla: An aeronautical engineer and Vice President at Virgin Galactic, Sirisha Bandla became the second India-born woman to travel to space on the Virgin Galactic Unity 22 mission in 2021.

Women Pioneers of ISRO:

  • Lalitha Ramachandran: Joined ISRO in 1969 as a technical assistant at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), becoming one of the first female chemical engineers recruited by ISRO. She retired as associate project director of the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.
  • J Geetha: Joined ISRO in 1972 after working at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. She reminisces about the challenges of data gathering in the pre-internet era and the mentorship she received from stalwarts like Satish Dhawan and Vasant R Gowarikar.
  • Radhika Ramachandran: Joined ISRO in 1984 and served in various roles, including technical liaison officer at ISRO’s New Delhi office and director of the Space Physics Laboratory. She highlights the merit-based culture and the support for open discussions and suggestions.
  • T S Ramadevi: Joined ISRO in 1970 after completing her BTech from CET, Thiruvananthapuram. She was part of the communications unit and contributed to the growth of ISRO’s transmission technologies. She retired as deputy director of management systems.
  • Athula Devi: Joined ISRO in 1987 and retired in January, having been part of the team that developed base software systems for the Gaganyaan launch. She emphasizes ISRO’s growth through failures and the team’s dedication to projects above personal recognition.



[2017] India has achieved remarkable successes in unmanned space missions including the Chandrayaan and Mars Orbiter Mission, but has not ventured into manned space missions. What are the main obstacles to launching a manned space mission, both in terms of technology and logistics? Examine critically. (10)

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