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Valentina Tereshkova: 50 years ago

Exactly 50 years ago, on June 16th, 1963, the first woman went to outer space.

The story of Valentina Tereshkova is also a story of the remarkable similarity between the propaganda tools of the Soviet Union and those employed by feminism and other pathological ideologies of the contemporary Western society.

Gagarin, Popovich, Tereshkova, Khruschchev...

For some time, the Soviet Union appeared to be ahead of the U.S. in the space race. Sending a female cosmonaut to the orbit was a natural next argument designed to support the (preposterous) claims that communism was technologically superior to capitalism.

To make the message really strong and ideologically convenient, many details of the selection had to be social-engineered and many facts about the spaceflight had to be censored for decades.

Not everyone was eligible to participate in that Vostok 6 spaceflight. She had to be female. But any female wouldn't be good enough. It had to be a female from the "right" class, the working class. (I suppose that the PC folks in the U.S. would prefer a female "minority" these days – structurally speaking, those biases are the same.) So they were searching through factory workers and textile factory assembly worker Tereshkova who was an amateur parachutist looked great, especially because her father was a war hero of the Soviet Union, a tank leader sergeant who died in the Finnish Winter War. She was extraordinarily more-than-loyal to the party ideals and became a member of the communist party later, too.

I don't have to explain you how dramatically you weaken the pool of candidates if your cosmonaut has to satisfy not only the sexuological criteria but also the political ones. But the creation of the right "role models" was primary; meritocratic considerations were secondary.

The spaceflight itself was a 48-orbits-long sequence of mistakes, glitches, whining, violations of the plans, and a permanent existential threat.

Only in the late 1980s, people started to learn that she was crying throughout the spaceflight and begging to return to the blue planet as soon as possible. This article is among those that summarize all the incompetency and physical inadequacy that determined the character of Tereshkova's spaceflight. A much longer article about the fiasco launched by intrigues and plots was automatically translated from Czech (1st part; 2nd part about her near-cutting of her head etc.; 3rd part about bruises and censorship).

In the beginning of the first day, things looked sort of OK. She was communicating with Vostok 5 that already out there and even sang songs to Valery Bykovsky over there. It was also the first day of glitches. The spaceship was erroneously programmed not for landing but for taking the ship into a higher orbit. The error was fixed and everyone was obliged to remain silent about it. When I say silent, I mean for 44 years: only in 2007, Tereshkova admitted that the speculations were true and the potentially lethal programming glitch did occur.

In the official report, she complained that she had to vomit. Her helmet was too heavy on her shoulders and scratched her head while the spacesuit hurt her leg. She couldn't feel comfortable enough in the weightless state. The limited size of the spaceship was frightening, too. Needless to say, this official report of hers was censored as well.

More seriously, she had trouble to guide the spaceship. For example, her invalid maneuvers interrupted the communications just before descent began. General Nikolai Kamanin, the boss of the spaceflight sector at that time, revealed those things many years later and admitted that the selection of Tereshkova was a mistake. In the 1960s, he was behaving differently, however. For political reasons, he continued to sing odes to Tereshkova and criticized two arguably more prepared candidates, physically and by their skills, namely Valentina Ponomaryova (who had a husband, kids, love for cigarettes, and self-confidence, imagine that!) and Irina Solovyeva (who was not sufficiently socially active!).

Tereshkova couldn't follow the eating schedule – ate only 1/3 of what she was supposed to eat (she partly decided in this way because she was shocked that she should use the spacesuit to remove the feces, as prescribed) which is why she fainted at the end – and took her shoes off, for the sake of convenience, like a diva and in a conflict with the regulations.

After Tereshkova catapulted out of her capsule and parachuted to Southern Siberia – as expected – her location wasn't known for two hours because she landed about 6 miles from the right place. While landing, she bruised her nose by smashing it against the visor. The bruise was covered up by make up during ceremonies. We often tend to agree with Steven Weinberg that manned flights don't bring any real added value – except for a highly increased price. Sometimes we have doubts about that but I have no doubts that similar womanned flights bring no added values except for lots of extra hassle and unnecessary problems.

Tereshkova remains the only female solo astronaut in the history and the number of female astronauts is still limited. Someone tried to design an all-female mission but certain experienced professionals who are sometimes called "male chauvinists" have vetoed such plans. While Tereshkova's spaceflight was painted – and mostly is still painted – as a great success in the mass culture, the space program professionals evaluated the "success" so that they didn't send any new woman to space for 19 long years after her. When the world's second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya went to space in 1982, your humble correspondent was already watching, and so were most of you. ;-) Savitskaya had actually been not only a parachuter but also a trained (and employed) aircraft construction engineer, a world champion in some propeller aircraft disciplines etc., a really competent cosmonaut (she had no trouble with spacewalk, the first woman to do it) and at least her male colleagues' real peer (although another communist). But back to 1963.

Khrushchev arguably knew about all the fiascos surrounding Tereshkova's flight but he had the chutzpah to boast about the flight that "demonstrated the equality of men and women in our country [USSR]". Imagine how preposterous such a claim is given the fact that she did almost nothing well. The event was an achievement of several top men in the space program who faced no barriers when they put at risk the life of a nearly unprepared woman in the very same way in which they previously risked the life of Laika the Dog – to boost their own pride.

Sergei Koroliov, a big shot in the Soviet space program, wasn't a supporter of female astronauts as a concept but he at least insisted that the serious candidates would have to give up plans to have children etc. Most of the candidates at the beginning failed in tests of withstanding 80 Celsius degrees and up to 10 g of acceleration. The shortlist was composed of 18 women that were further reduced to 5 at some point.

Totalitarian ideologies and ideologies attempting to brainwash whole nations simply depend on certain "nice assumptions" and the claim that women are statistically equally good in similarly extremely physical and technical situations has always been one of the most favorite "nice assumptions" of this sort. They're really "not so nice lies", not "nice assumptions", but they're popular exactly because many other people know that they're not true. This fact has the effect of unifying those who are willing – or who were forced – to accept and defend the non-truth.

Tereshkova was a textbook example of a product of a spoiled ideology and a politically deformed job contest. But there were many personal deformations, too. Tereshkova was running around the offices, spreading insulting gossip about her competitors. Despite the de facto complete failure of her flight (except that she managed to return at all), she later became very prideful, convinced that she can do everything. So she was constantly deciding who should be the next one to get the orders of the Soviet Union etc. She was repeatedly drunk and fought against cops etc. but she was always freed and cleaned.

It may be nice to have role models but as soon as it becomes clear that the production of role models has become the primary obsession, and probably much earlier than that, sensible people should realize that the truth, meritocracy, and actual goals of the industries and programs are much more important than the good feelings created by the virtual reality. Propaganda sucks and so do the spoiled brats created along with it.

And that's the memo.

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snail feedback (14) :

reader Guest said...

OK, we get it, you think women are inferior. You should stick to physics, when you talk politics or culture you lose about 70 IQ points. It's embarrassing, really. I read the articles you linked to, they don't even say what you think they say. *sad face*

reader Luboš Motl said...

What I wrote was the unquestionable fact that Tereshkova was one of the lousiest astronauts ever and the only one who was whining, crying, and complaining throughout most of the spaceflight, it's unlikely that one can find a large number of female candidates who would be professionally on par with the male astronauts who are already out there, and that it is very wrong to create virtual reality in the interests of ideology and to pick candidates - especially for such special tasks - using ideological criteria.

You clearly don't know how to read if you say that the articles don't say what I do. They surely do. I wrote a review. Many of them are much more dramatic in their wording than my essay, e.g. this article on the top Czech sci-tech server Technet:|en&tbb=1&ie=windows-1250

I just banned you because I don't want insulting and content-free lies to be posted here by you again.

reader Shannon said...

Maybe Tereshkova didn't realize she was claustrophobic until she went into space. This can happen out of the blue (it did to me in a submarine, as we were going down 5, 6 metres... dreadful. They had to go back up because of me :-). Tough shit, I had huge headaches and nightmares for 3 days thinking of these poor 116 Russians who got stuck in their submarine in 1995. I'll never put my foot into these sinking coffins ever).

reader T Smith said...

great article

reader Luboš Motl said...

Maybe, it must be tough, Shannon, but I have some doubts about your guess that it's impossible to find out Vostok claustrophobia in advance. :-)

reader Hombre de la mancha said...

Valentina Tereshkova was a textile worker who had almost no prior aviation experience and only received about seven months of cosmonaut training. Using her as an example of presumed universal female incompetence is frankly strange.

Of the 527 people to have orbited the earth 57, or slightly more than 10 percent, have been women.
In a traditionally male dominated field that's not bad.

In addition The accomplishments of female test pilots like Marina Popovich and Hanna Reitsch(who's politics you may find more agreeable), should put to rest the idea that women are in caplible of serious accomplishment in aerospace.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, 10% is much less than 50% and almost all of them were arguably "out there" because of quotas or some men's special desire to be so good that they can even send a woman to space.

Why would I find Popovich's or Reitsch's politics more agreeable? Was that a joke? Popovich was a darling of the Soviet socialist propaganda and believed in UFOs to make it even better, Reitsch has been a darling of the German (national) socialist propaganda. I don't like socialist propaganda babes, sorry. The main difference between these two socialist countries was that Hitler has had 4-year plans and Stalin has had 5-year plans.

reader Hombre de la mancha said...

Nobody is doubting that women are underrepresented in space flight relative to their percentage in the population as a whole; the real question is why this is the case. Given that vast majority of astronauts began their careers in military aviation, a field that was until very recently closed to women in most countries, it is hard to draw any conclusion at this point.

The issue of differences in natural abilities between the sexes is always a question of averages. Even in a purely physical activity , boxing or football for instance, where men are undoubtedly superior, the top female performer can still beat the average man.

What we need to ask is to what extant the two bell curves overlap. And to declare based on very little
anecdotal evidence that women are incompetent as astronauts is irresponsible at best.

Hanna Reitsch was hardly a "propaganda babe", fanatical Nazism aside, she was a very accomplished pilot. Late in the war she was one of the few people to successfully pilot and land a manned version of the v1 flying bomb, a notoriously unstable aircraft with a very high stall speed.

As for the comment about her politics i merely meant that, given fascist attitudes towards feminism, it is unlikely she owed her career to any politically correct ideology.

I don't know what you mean about Popovich and UFO's.

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's complete bullshit that aviation was closed from women. There have always been women in aviation - Amelia Earhart is just one ancient example - and their number has always been small for very obvious biologically rooted reasons.

Of course that Hanna Reitsch was a propaganda babe, one of the most important ones in the history of Nazi Germany.

reader Hombre de la mancha said...

As i said military aviation was legally closed to women in most countries until very recently. Without military experience civil aviation is an expensive and time consuming career path that the average woman is unlikely to pursue. Especially in an era when women were less independent than they are now.

I'm not sure what "obvious biological reasons" should prevent women from being pilots or astronauts.

US air force studies have indicated that on average the female body is slightly less susceptible to G induced black out then men.

Given the Reich's attitude towards women i suspect
Hanna Reitsch' propaganda value to the Nazi party was due to her skill as a pilot and not to her sex.

if one believes in meritocracy people should be judged on their merit and not on what's between their legs.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Susceptibility to G has clearly nothing to do with the primary reasons why women represent less than 10% or a similar trace percentage of the pilots.

Reich's attitude to women was the same as any totalitarian system's or ideology's approach to any men or women. They are just tools abused for ideological goals. In general, as I explained, the Nazi idea about the role of women in the society was pretty much identical to the feminists' picture of the women in the society.

If one believes in meritocracy people should be judged on their merit and not on what's between their legs.

Right - except that Nature has used her exclusive right to correlate the two in many aspects - and create thousands of other, sometimes very strong, correlations. You may dislike them but it's the last thing you can do against the laws of Nature..

reader Hombre de la mancha said...

Your right about totalitarianism exploiting people. The soviets certainly exploited Tereshkova, sending a woman unprepared on a dangerous mission in a poorly designed rocket.

As for the idea that feminismand national socialism share a common view of society... well i'm not even sure where to begin.

The nazis believed that a woman's place was in the home raising good Aryan children. Kinder, Küche, Kirche was there slogan.

If it's not a concern of physical stamina, and not social or economic conditions, than what ,in your estimation, does make women unqualified as pilots ?

reader Hombre de la mancha said...

right about totalitarianism exploiting people,

soviets certainly Exploited Tereshkova, sending an unprepared

on a dangerous mission in a poorly designed rocket.

A fact I might hope would give you some pause in using your blog to be
randomly cruel to her.

As for fascism and feminism being simpatico. I don't even know where to

The Nazis were a right wing reactionary movement that believed that a
woman's place was in the home raising good Aryan kids.

“die Küche, die Kirchner, die Kinder”was their slogan.

The exact opposite of modern feminism.

I know quit a bit more than you about fascism Mr moti, having lost family to one such regime it's been one of my modest areas of expertise ever sence.

If it's not a question of physical stamina, or social and economic
conditions, than what in your opinion prevents women from pursuing
careers in aviation?

reader Luboš Motl said...

You're a complete idiot - every single thing pretending to be a fact is a lie.

Kinder, Küche, Kirche originated in the 1890s, peaked in the Weimar Republic, and was never used in Nazi Germany.,_K%C3%BCche,_Kirche

Nazi Germany preferred the same feminist lies and propaganda that you offer here.

Czechoslovakia never closed any industry to women. Still, we have exactly one female pilot of fighters now, Katerina Hlavsova.

It is an issue of physical stamina and many other things, especially about the temperament, 3D visualization, and technical intuition in which women are statistically detectably less ready than men - as groups - which explains why the female pilots, especially fighter pilots, will remain exceptions.