Tereshkova orbits the Earth aboard Vostok-6
An iconic image of Valentina Tereshkova taken as she was boarding her spacecraft on June 16, 1963.
June 16: Vostok-6 launch
Disproving once again sailors' old myth about women onboard bringing bad luck, Tereshkova's launch day was a walk in the park compared to Bykovsky's trouble-plagued countdown. Kamanin and veteran cosmonauts were on hand as Tereshkova and Solovyova got into their spacesuits. They boarded a bus and arrived at the launch pad at 12:15 p.m. As all her predecessors, Tereshkova reported to the chairman of the State Commission and was presented with flowers, which she immediately handed over to Korolev. She struggled a bit climbing metal stairs to the elevator, waved to everybody and by the time she was boarding the capsule her pulse reached 140. Still, 10-15 minutes later, she established radio-communications with the ground and reported on hardware checks. Kamanin, proud of his protege, claimed that all who heard her communications had to agree that Tereshkova had conducted all operations better than Popovich and Nikolaev. (574)
Vostok-6 blasted off as scheduled at 12:30 Moscow Time and the spacecraft successfully reached its planned orbit. In case of launch delay, Vostok-6 apparently had a backup liftoff opportunity at 14:00 Moscow Time. (672)
Ironically, with the high anticipation of the Soviet dual mission in the West, there were speculations that Tereshkova's launch was delayed for 24 hours, missing the first opportunity to rendezvous with Vostok-5, when the spacecraft passed over Tyuratam during its 17th orbit on June 15. (651)
Once in orbit, Tereshkova reported that she was in a good shape and all systems were working perfectly. (466) Tereshkova would later recall that the acceleration was lower than 5G. Through the Vzor periscope at her feet and in the side window she could see the Earth. The third stage of the Vostok rocket, which delivered her into orbit, appeared in the right window after its separation. (574)
As early as 13:00, or just half an hour after her launch, she was able to establish communications with Bykovsky. An hour later, Moscow Television was triumphantly broadcasting "live" pictures of Tereshkova from orbit. (651)
Tereshkova then made two attempts to manually bring the spacecraft into right orientation for a similated landing engine firing, which was scheduled during the second orbit of her mission. (672) She admitted that both attempts to establish the correct stable orientation for the spacecraft had failed as she struggled to reach the instruments and the vehicle kept drifting away from a prescribed position. Records in her flight journal indicated that Vostok kept tumbling along its bank axis.
The failure to control the spacecraft manually could potentially prevent it from completing a deorbiting maneuver, if the nominal automated attitude control failed. (231) Although the probability of such a scenario was low, Korolev was reportedly irritated. (466) He apparently talked to her during the 38th orbit. "Don't worry I'll do it all in the morning," Tereshkova radioed. (574)
During the third orbit, Khrushchev, ecstatic as usual, called Tereshkova with his congratulations and best wishes. (465) Tereshkova later joked that "Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev has become a real radio operator; we followed all the radio communication rules in our conversation. We used the call signals and ended by saying "over."" (651)
Top Kremlin officials on the phone with Tereshkova (left to right): Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
On June 17, at 10 a.m., Kamanin started his shift at the communication post in Tyuratam. He learned that both cosmonauts had a good sleep lasting eight hours and Bykovsky had a pulse of 48-56, while Tereshkova recorded 64-72.
Bykovsky reported that he had had great communications not only with the ground, but also with Tereshkova onboard Vostok-6. "She is singing me songs," he said. (574) However he later reported that despite all his efforts he could not find Tereshkova's ship in the sky. In turn, Tereshkova did say that she had established contact with Bykovsky on the night side of the Earth and at one point saw a star three times brighter than Vega, which she thought could be Vostok-5.
According to official Soviet sources, the two ships came as close as five kilometers to each other during the first orbit of Vostok-6. (505)
However after their maximum proximity, the two spacecraft started drifting apart and communications also became difficult to maintain. By the middle of the second day of the joint mission radio-contact completely broke down, even though Tereshkova could still hear some messages addressed to Bykovsky.
Despite Vostok-5's excellent technical shape, the pessimistic prognosis about its orbit decay turned out to be right -- the spacecraft was losing its altitude faster than expected. (466)
The State Commission convened from 11:30 to 13:00, where it was reported that Vostok-5 would naturally reenter the Earth's atmosphere after just 7.1 days. To prevent uncontrolled reentry, it was decided to shorten the mission to 5-6 days, while keeping Vostok-6 in orbit for three days instead of one, given Tereshkova's seemingly successful flight. Under such a scenario, the two spacecraft would return home on the same day. However the decision on the exact landing time was postponed until the evening of June 18.
Kamanin made two communications sessions with Tereshkova and remembered her reporting good health, good parameters in the cabin and her intention to fully complete the mission. However, at least some controllers construed her answers about her health as evasive. (574) One of ground control officials, with the typical condescending attitude that would later accompany many commentaries about Tereshkova's flight, claimed that her voice communications were "almost unintelligible." (262)
As Tereshkova would later explain in her post-flight reports, she started feeling pain in her right leg on the second day of the mission, which would become really bothering by the third day. She also started feeling pressure from the helmet in the shoulder area, while her audio headgear started irritating her left ear. (Bykovsky would also complain about his helmet in the post-fight debriefing.) Finally, when she tried to eat, she suddenly vomited, but she attributed its cause to the bad taste of food rather than weightlessness. (231)
Obviously none of this information was publicly reported at the time, however, peculiarly, the official account of the Soviet manned missions published in 1973, used word "udovletvoritelnoe" ("fair" or "acceptable") rather than "good" or "excellent," when describing Tereshkova's condition making it possible to extend her flight from one to three days. (505)
June 18: Preparing for landing
Since 10 a.m., flight officials were working out landing details for both spacecraft. It was decided to return Vostok-6 during its 49th orbit. In case of the failure of the automated braking maneuver, Tereshkova would have opportunities to conduct a braking maneuver during the 51st and 54th orbit using manual orientation of the spacecraft. Vostok-5 was to conduct its deorbiting maneuver during either the 82nd or 98th orbit. Despite his mission being cut short from eight to five days, Bykovsky would still break the record for the flight duration.
During the day, Kamanin had several opportunities to talk to Tereshkova and he admitted that she sounded tired, even though she wouldn't say it. During the latest communications session with the ground station near Leningrad she had not responded to the initial call. Controllers activated the TV system and found her sleeping. They reluctantly woke her up by switching her cabin light on and off (262) to discuss with her the upcoming landing and a manual attitude-control exercise, which flight managers wanted to precede the braking maneuver. (574)
In the meantime, Bykovsky onboard Vostok-5 was also not 100 percent comfortable. While he ate and slept fine, on the third day of his flight he had to take a constipation medication. It helped and he could use a toilet for the first time, about which he reported over an interference-prone shortwave radio.
At 11:30, Moscow coordination center called Kamanin in Tyuratam and reported that a ground station in Khabarovsk had received the following radiogram from Bykovsky: "At 09:05 had a cosmic stook." ("stook" means "knock" in Russian).
Fearing a meteoroid impact, Korolev and Tyulin immediately started compiling a list of questions to send to the cosmonaut during the next communications session in order to assess the danger. They also demanded from specialists to make an estimate for the size of a meteor which could be felt by a cosmonaut, but would not breach the cabin. Kamanin was assigned to discuss the issue with Bykovsky.
At the beginning of the next session, when asked about the nature and the region of the "knock," Bykovsky replied that he had no idea what Kamanin was taking about. Reminded about his message to Khabarovsk, Bykovsky laughingly said that he meant "stool." "I just went to the toilet," Bykovsky laughed. The laughing ground controllers then congratulated Bykovsky with his "space first" and said that that despite his brave actions, he needed to prepare for landing at the beginning of his 6th day in orbit. (466)
Also on June 18, the Presidium of the Central Committee had to issue an exception (Decree No. P103/6) accepting Bykovsky's candidacy into the communist party without a trial period.
Manual reentry data for the mission of Vostok-6 with the launch time at 12:30 Moscow Time (June 16, 1963) (672):
Manual reentry data for the mission of Vostok-6 with the launch time at 14:00 Moscow Time (June 16, 1963) (672):
Next chapter: Landing of Vostok-6
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: October 4, 2018
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 30, 2013
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Tereshkova puts on her spacesuit on the morning of June 16, 1963.
Tereshkova walks to her bus for a ride to the launch pad.
Tereshkova boards a bus on her way to the launch pad.
On the launch pad, Tereshkova reports to the Chairman of the State Commission Georgy Tyulin (top, right), as Alexei Leonov holds the mic. Korolev (on the top photo, middle) is the only person not smiling.
Tereshkova greets a technician, as she exits the elevator at the top of the access gantry to her spacecraft.
An engineer helps Tereshkova to board her spacecraft.
TV images of Valentina Tereshkova during the flight. Interestingly, the image above shows a pen floating in weightlessness, even though Tereshkova later said that two of her pencils broke, preventing her from keeping her journal. There were also reports that Tereshkova made entries into her flight journal after landing.