UN celebrates 50 years of invaluable contributions by women to human space flight

By | 14 June 2013

UN – The United Nations today commemorated the first space flight by a woman over 50 years ago and the contributions by women to that endeavour since then, hailing these “trailblazers” as powerful role models for young women and men worldwide.

Press briefing by Valentina Tereshkova on the occasion of the celebration of 50 years of women in space. Photo: UNIS Vienna

Press briefing by Valentina Tereshkova on the occasion of the celebration of 50 years of women in space. Photo: UNIS Vienna

It was on 16 June 1963 that cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into outer space aboard the Vostok-6 spacecraft, making history in a 70-hour flight during which she orbited the Earth 48 times.

“This milestone heralded the beginning of the contribution by women to human space flight,” Mazlan Othman, Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), said at a news conference in Vienna to mark 50 years of Women in Space.

Since then, Ms. Othman said, nearly 60 women from Canada, China, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have gone into space, “many of them trailblazers like Ms. Tereshkova; all of them powerful role models for young women and men who follow in their steps.”

Joining Ms. Tereshkova at the event were Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in outer space; Chiaki Mukai, the first female Japanese astronaut; and Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman taikonaut.

Noting other milestones, Ms. Othman said that 18 June will mark the 30th anniversary of the first US woman in space, Sally Ride. In 1984, Svetlana Savitskaya conducted the first spacewalk by a woman. Sunita Williams, commander of Expedition 33 in 2012, holds the record for the longest single space flight by a woman.

Women astronauts have also served as the Mission Commander for both Space Shuttle and Space Station missions. In 2007, Peggy Whitson became the first female commander of the International Space Station.

“These are just a few accomplishments,” said Ms. Othman. “And for every woman that has flown into space there are hundreds serving on the ground in almost every sector of space activities.”

Speaking at a panel held yesterday by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), Ms. Tereshkova encouraged more women to take part in space programmes. “A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women,” she stressed.

“More women should actively participate in space flight. There are many well educated women working in the space industry, they are very good candidates,” she added at today’s news conference.

At yesterday’s session of the Committee, the Director-General of the UN Office at Vienna, Yury Fedotov, highlighted the value of women space explorers for future generations.

“Space science and technology have made important contributions to areas as diverse as health and disaster management to climate change mitigation and development. The discussion here today makes clear that the peaceful and beneficial use of space relies not only on cooperation between States, but the equal participation of women and men.”

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