You may know of the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova) or the second (Svetlana Savitskaya). But do you know the name and the story of the third female cosmonaut? Elena Kondakova may have not been the first woman in space, but she was the first woman to enter the cosmonaut team-in-training program with male classmates. She set the precedent of mixed-gendered selections that exists in Russia today.
Before humans flew into space, dogs, chimpanzees, and flight-test dummies led the way. Ivan Ivanovich, who flew in the Soviet Korabl-Sputnik program in the early 1960s, was one such dummy. In a heady atmosphere of Cold War tension, Soviet secrecy, and uncertainty about the dawning space age, garbled retellings of Ivan's extraordinary story helped foster one of the most tenacious Space Age conspiracy theories: The Lost Cosmonaut Theory.
Through the commotion of a very successful July which included the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the 46th anniversary of Apollo 11, and the Museum’s very first Kickstarter project, there is one anniversary that we may have inadvertently overlooked. In July, the Zvezda (Russian for “star”) module of the International Space Station (ISS) celebrated 15 years in orbit.
This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the sole launch of the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The idea of a reusable space plane has existed for decades among space enthusiasts and predated the idea of a rocket carrying humans into Earth orbit.
March is Women’s History Month and those of us trained as women’s historians know that our topics have particular currency in the third month of the year. But for women in space, the month to celebrate really should be June.
July 15-24 marked the 35th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the famous “Handshake in Space.” ASTP was the first American-Soviet space flight, docking the last American Apollo spacecraft with the then-Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. This joint effort between the two major world players was based on an agreement signed in 1972, and it set a precedent for future joint efforts, such as the Shuttle-Mir Program and the International Space Station.
Every year as the anniversary of the first human spaceflight approaches, I receive calls inquiring about the validity of Yuri Gagarin’s claim as the first human in space. The legitimate questions focus on the fact that Gagarin did not land inside his spacecraft.