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Female cosmonauts begin training

The final selection of the Soviet women cosmonauts took place on Saturday, March 3, 1962, at the Central Military Aviation Hospital, TsVNIAG. Irina Solovyova, Valentina Tereshkova and Tatyana Kuznetsova were selected as finalists, with Zhanna Yerkina and Valentina Ponomareva as runner ups.

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Training starts

Kuznetsova, Solovyova and Tereshkova were officially enrolled into the Cosmonaut Training Center, TsPK, as trainees on March 12, 1962, followed by Zhanna Yerkina and Valentina Ponomareva on April 3. Being a part of the Air Force, TsPK formally drafted all women to military service.

In May during his trip to the US, Kamanin again "confirmed" that several US women had started training and were "expected" to fly by the end of 1962. (574)

Visit to Tyuratam

In August 1962, as Korolev's team was preparing a series of launches of unmanned probes to Venus, five female cosmonauts visited a launch site near Tyuratam for the first time, where they produced quite a stir among the mostly male population of the facility. During the tour, the new cosmonauts saw a Molniya rocket during it pre-launch processing, then they went to the pad and to a tracking facility. During the trip, officials asked the opinion of the young women on the length of the flight and they all wanted a long-duration mission: "...why should we be behind guys!" On August 22, Leonid Smirnov, the Chairman of the State Committee for Defense Technology, met the women's group in Tyuratam and told them that the first woman would fly at the end of October 1962 and the mission would last up to three days. For "dessert," on August 25, women cosmonauts watched a Molniya rocket lifting off with the 2MV-1 No. 3 Venus probe. (466)


A still from a footage likely recorded in August 1962 during a visit of women cosmonauts to Tyuratam (Baikonur). The group apparently inspects a processing building at Site 2 during the preparation of the E-6 lunar lander (left) and Mars-Venera probe (center). A prototype of Object-D (Sputnik-3), which was launched four years earlier, might be visible on the right.

Developing SK-2 spacesuit

In preparation for the flight of the first woman in space, Plant No. 918, responsible for life-support systems and spacesuits, started developing a female version of the SK-1 spacesuit, designated SK-2. It had slightly narrower shoulders, wider hips and decreased opening in the neck partition than the SK-1. To retain arm mobility with narrower shoulders, the restraint system of shoulder joints had to be modified. The helmet-holding cord was lowered from its breast position. SK-2 was also equipped with thinner gloves featuring better mobility in the thumb. The lever opening the breathing valve and handles on the visor were made easier to operate. The waste management receptacle was modified for a female body. Most non-female specific upgrades were also added to the last SK-1 suit intended for the male pilot of Vostok-5.

During 1962, a total of eight SK-2 suits were manufactured. A female employee at Plant No. 918, G. I. Viskovskaya tested them on herself and, later, was assigned to help the first woman cosmonaut to put the suit on before the actual flight. (271) Viskovskaya dressed in SK-2 suit apparently spent as long as 15 days inside a mockup of the Vostok spacecraft.

According to Kamanin, during 1962, the development of the spacesuit was one of the factors determining the launch date of the first woman-cosmonaut. At the end of August, Semen Alekseev, the head of Plant No. 918, reported that three spacesuits for Tereshkova, Ponomareva and Solovyova would be ready by November. As a result, the dual Vostok flight had to be delayed until March or April 1963. (574)

Selecting the prime candidate

Four female candidates formally completed basic cosmonaut training at the end of November 1962 and successfully passed exams on Nov. 27-29. (The fifth trainee -- Kuznetsova -- dropped out due to health problems). All four were recommended to be put on the stuff of the TsPK and given a rank of Junior Lieutenant.

By that time, Kamanin had learned enough about the personalities of his new recruits to make his mind on who would have the honor of becoming the first Soviet woman in space. He characterized Tereshkova as "Gagarin in a skirt," thanks to her outgoing personality, leadership and ideological loyalty. Peculiarly, Tereshkova had the least education and flying experience among her colleagues, with only a diploma from a textile production school and 126 parachute jumps at the aviation club. By comparison, Ponomareva, a protege of Mstislav Keldysh, had graduated from Moscow Aviation Institute, MAI, and logged 320 pilot hours. Solovyova graduated from the construction department of the Ural Polytechnic Institute and made 900 parachute jumps. At final exams to become cosmonauts, Ponomareva apparently earned the highest scores.

Flying hours
Parachute jumps
Valentina Tereshkova
90 (652); 70 (18) 126
no college degree
Valentina Ponomareva
320 hours, (Po-2, Yak-18 aircraft)
8 (652); 10 (18)
Moscow Aviation Institute
Zhanna Yerkina
Ryazan Pedagogical Institute
Irina Solovyova
>700 (652); 900 (18)
Ural University

However, Kamanin and other Soviet officials were ready to ignore all Tereshkova's shortcomings in education and experience, along with her later famous short temper, for the sake of her potential as a future representative of the Soviet system and a loyal communist propagandist. After all, the first woman cosmonaut would spend only a few days in orbit, but the rest of her life as a public figure and a representative of her nation and its political system.

Kamanin considered Solovyova as Tereshkova's backup, because she had displayed the best physical abilities but was considered an introvert. Ponomareva, who Kamanin admitted was the most capable among others intellectually and had the strong support of Keldysh, was relegated to third place, due to her arrogance, egoism and tendencies to have a drink and have fun, in Kamanin's eyes, which very well could be his interpretation of personal independence. (574)

According to Golovanov, Khrushchev himself issued the final verdict by preferring a photo of Tereshkova over those of Ponomareva and Solovyova. (18) Given the political importance of the choice, Golovanov's claim that it was made solely on the basis of a photo is at least an oversimplification. Golovanov's sugary story, how Gagarin was equally fond of all female candidates, but then voted for Tereshkova after being turned off by Keldysh's heavy handed lobbying for Ponomareva, became another myth especially popular in Western accounts.

In any case, Kamanin told the four women after their "graduation" to cosmonauts that they all would be prepared for a space flight and all would have a chance to fly in space, but the pilot for the first mission would be selected just two-three days before launch. With that, all four women were then given a long break beginning on Nov. 30, 1962. They were asked to report for duty on Jan. 10, 1963. (574)

Battle over the flight scenario

Along with squabbles over the personality of the first woman in space, top officials continued the "tradition" of a protracted battle over the flight program. The initial idea (apparently from Kamanin) about flying as many as three ships simultaneously with two of them piloted by women, seemingly remained on the table as late as November 1962, however such an ambitious plan had to be dropped early on due to the fact that only two Vostok spacecraft (No. 7 and No. 8) were manufactured and Soviet military officials resisted any further spending on the program. (574)

On the opposite side of the "barricade" was Korolev, along with his closest associates, Tyulin and Keldysh. They would have prefered all remaining spacecraft to be flown by experienced male pilots, which would allow to extend these missions to six or eight days. During longer missions, Korolev wanted to conduct manual control experiments and equip the spacecraft with additional photography and observation hardware, in order to prove the usefulness of manned space flight to the military. However Korolev had to give in to the demands from the political leadership for more space firsts. (466)

On Jan. 10, 1963, Kamanin met with Korolev to discuss the flight scenarios for the next Vostok missions, then expected in April or May 1963. The following proposals were under consideration:

  • A three-day orbital flight of a single spacecraft with a woman pilot;
  • A dual flight with two women onboard launching within 24 hours of each other and landing simultaneously after the first spacecraft would have logged three days in orbit;
  • A female pilot launching first for a three-day mission, followed by a male pilot launching a day later and orbiting the Earth for 5-7 days;

Obviously, Kamanin was favoring the second option. By the end of January, Kamanin promised to have two women ready for flight on March 20, 1963. However, the Soviet military, which had little interest for expensive manned missions, proposed an alternative "scenario" -- to launch one woman onboard Vostok No. 7 for propaganda purposes and send one remaining Vostok No. 8 to a museum!

Faced with a prospect of "losing" one mission completely, Kamanin and Korolev quickly put down their quarrels and decided to urgently train three men for a long-duration flight onboard the last remaining Vostok.

On Feb. 9, 1963, Dmitry Ustinov, the Chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission at the Soviet of Ministers, citing prior endorsements from Malinovsky and Vershinin, formally asked the approval of the Central Committee to prepare the two remaining Vostok vehicles (No. 7 and No. 8) for launch in the first half of 1963. He also requested the production of four additional Vostok vehicles during the first half of the same year. In 1963 and 1964, these new ships could fly missions lasting up to 10 days.

As of March, the dual mission, including a woman orbiting the Earth from one to three days, was still expected in April or May 1963, however hand-written dates in the typed document of the Central Committee indicated the uncertainty of the schedule. (509)

Even that late, Frol Kozlov, the powerful secretary of the Central Committee, who often relied on Korolev for his decisions on space, reportedly questioned whether it was necessary to fly women. However, neither Kozlov or Korolev could question the authority of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who obviously understood the huge propaganda value in launching the first woman in space.

During the final consideration of the issue at the Central Committee, on March 21, 1963, Frol Kozlov (likely with "guidance" from Korolev) said that the woman's flight could be conducted alongside the long-duration flight of a male pilot. (574) According to the transcript of the meeting, such a mission could last 10 days! It was the ultimate compromise between engineers and ideologists: engineers were pushing the frontier and politicians were getting their space sensation!

Final training

From the beginning of April 1963, with the deadline for the Vostok missions looming in mid-June, the exact launch date for Vostok-5 was now largely dictated by the readiness of spacesuits for male members of the mission. Alekseev promised to ship them by May 10, which would clear the way to three or four days of training of pilots in the "thermal" prototype of Vostok demanded by medical officials.

Of the female candidates, all but Yerkina completed "thermal" training with flying colors. Yerkina removed her shoes after one day, ("because they were too tight"), ate only a third of her required food rations in three days and, not surprisingly, fainted upon exiting the capsule.

However there were bigger problems with male pilots. Bykovsky and Volynov were scheduled to complete the same exercise by May 30, Leonov and Khrunov by June 15. Simultaneously, Alekseev's team had been custom-balancing an ejection seat for female pilots. However the ejection seat available for a male pilot could be fitted only for Bykovsky, but not for Volynov. As it turned out, Volynov in his spacesuit had a weight of 104.5 kilograms and only Bykovsky with his 90.7 kilograms remained within required the mass limit for the Vostok-5 spacecraft overloaded with supplies for a record-breaking flight. The almost 14-kilogram difference between two pilots reportedly made it impossible to use the same seat for both cosmonauts. Kamanin started thinking about resolving the problem by quickly training Khrunov and find one or two more people to replace Volynov, Leonov and Komarov. Alekseev proposed to adjust the seat for Leonov, whose spacesuit would be ready by May 25-30.

In the meantime, the Air Force hospital TsVNIIAG apparently disqualified Komarov due to heart problems, even though this decision was doubted by the chief medical specialist Vladimir Yazdovsky and others.

Alekseev was obviously not happy about all these developments, because he already had a suit for Komarov, but would now have to make another one. He told Kamanin that Yazdovsky had promised him that Komarov would be eventually cleared to continue training.

Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 16, 2016

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 29, 2013

All rights reserved





Cosmonaut training included a variety of exercise.



Tereshkova apparently during tests in a barometric chamber.

Med test


Various sensors and tests would be used to monitor cosmonauts condition and abilities.


Trying space food from special tubes.


An outdoor exercise probably aimed to train cosmonauts to orient themselves after landing.


Irina Solovyova


Valentina Ponomareva


Tereshkova in the SK-2 spacesuit.

Blodd test

Tereshkova during a blood test.





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