According to AFP, the Russian Space Agency is preparing to send the first female cosmonaut into space in over 15 years. Her name is Yelena Serova and she will spend a six-month tour on board the International Space Station.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space
The Soviet Union, even though there have been few female cosmonauts, launched Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly into space, on board the Vostok 6 in June 1963, according to Encyclopedia Astronautica. Though there were some questions raised at the time by Soviet space officials at the time about her performance during her flight, Tereshkova spent three days in low Earth orbit, at the time more than the combined total of all American men. The flight was considered a propaganda coup for the Soviet Union, which at the time was engaged in a space race with the United States. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did not consider sending a more women into space until the late 1970s, when NASA began recruiting female astronauts.
Other female cosmonauts
Since Tereshkova's flight just two female cosmonauts have flown in space. Svetlana Savitskaya flew on two missions in the 1980s. She was on a Soyuz flight in August 1982. In July 1984 she flew on a tour of the Soviet space station Salyut 7 during which she became the first woman to conduct a space walk and the first woman to fly in space twice. Yelena Kondakova flew in space twice as well, once on a Soyuz mission to Mir in October 1994 where she became the first woman to conduct a long-duration space flight and once on the STS-84 flight in May 1997. STS-84 conducted the sixth docking between a space shuttle and the Mir space station and also had Eileen Collins, the first female American pilot astronaut, among the crew.
Serova was born on April 22, 1976. She graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute as an aerospace test engineer in March 2001. Two years later she graduated as an economist from the Moscow State Academy of instrument-making and information. After working as an engineer at the Energia Rocket Space Corporation and the MCC-Moscow, she was selected as a cosmonaut candidate in 2006. After completing training, she was designated as a test cosmonaut in the Roscosmos Cosmonaut Corps. The AFP story notes that Serova will likely make her flight to the ISS in 2014 and will not be required to perform a space walk. She will be engaged in microgravity research on board the orbiting laboratory. There is a second woman cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, currently in training.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo, The Last Moonwalker, andDreams of Barry's Stepfather. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.