Many people know that Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space in June 1963. Some people may know that Soviet aerobatic pilot, Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman in space, just prior to Sally Ride’s flight. But how many people know the name and the story of the third female cosmonaut? Her name is Elena Kondakova.
A Cosmonaut First
Kondakova was selected to join the Soviet cosmonaut team-in-training in late January 1989 by the Joint State Commission for the Selection of Cosmonauts. Kondakova’s selection as a cosmonaut candidate was a first in Soviet space history. She was the very first woman to enter the program with male classmates. Previous women candidates had all been part of a gender-specific selection, including the first women cosmonaut candidates in 1962 with Valentina Tereshkova and the three women who had been selected in response to the gender diversity of the1978 American astronaut class. Kondakova entered the program with three male classmates and set the precedent of mixed-gendered selections that exists in Russia today.
Elena Kondakova’s first trip into space was on Soyuz TM-20 on October 4, 1994. She returned to Earth on March 22, 1995, after a five-month stay at the Mir space station. Kondakova's second flight was as a mission specialist on the United States Space Shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-84 in May 1997. Her Atlantis mission made her the first female to fly on board both American and Russian spacecraft. Her mission was the last one for a Russian woman until her successor Elena Serova flew to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 25, 2014.
Kondakova was born on March 30, 1957, in the outskirts of Moscow, where many of the space manufacturers are located. She earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering with a specialty in the production of aircraft from the prestigious Baumann Higher Technical School.. After graduation, she worked at NPO Energiia (the legacy organization that put Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into orbit) on navigation systems for long-duration space flight.
Today, is Kondakova’s 60th birthday. From one space historian to a cosmonaut, Happy Birthday, Elena!