On this day in 1963, two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to journey into space, 26-year-old Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova became the first woman to do the same, orbiting Earth 48 times aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft over the course of three days. Prior to becoming a spacefarer, Tereshkova had worked as a textile worker, but her interest in skydiving, coupled with Gagarin’s achievement, had led her to volunteer for the Soviet space program in 1961. 18 months of training later, she was the only woman of five on the course to make the grade. On her return to Earth, Tereshkova was inundated with letters, including this one, written by a 27-year-old lady with whom she shared a name: Valentina Vladimirovna Zorkina, a senior machinist in an oil refinery in the Russian city of Novokuibyshevsk.
20 June 1963
Good day, Valentina Vladimirovna!
Dear Valyusha, greetings from your name-sharer, Valentina Vladimirovna Zorkina. I am infinitely happy for you that you had the great honor to make a heroic space flight, the first in the world by a girl from the Soviet Union.
Dear Valyusha! I was staggered by your achievement. I envy you your hardy, persistent nature. I am proud of you. I was so pleased when they began to congratulate you and me, because I am also Valentina Vladimirovna. And I shared your joy. I have no words warm or sincere enough to thank you for your achievement. A huge big thank you. This is the kind of heroic achievement that not everyone could carry out, and not everyone will get such an honor. Only those who have earned it through their painstaking work. I am so proud of you, our Soviet girl.
Dear Valyusha, I have read your biography and it reminded me in part of my own biography. I was also born in the countryside in 1936. My father drove tractors and combine harvesters. We lived in a small house in the country in which we had only one bed, a table, a trunk, a stove and galanok. Seven of us lived there. My father went off to war and didn’t return. He died there. And we five girls remained with mama. She brought us up on her own. What torment we suffered during the war and in the postwar years. I well remember how we lived then. We ate grass, rotten potatoes, acorns, wild leaves, onions.
It was good that we had our own cow so we could have milk. We had nothing to wear on our feet. We had to walk in winter to school from our village—3 kilometers there and 3 kilometers back—in bast sandals and in one of dad’s jackets tied round the waist with string, right up to fifth class. I finished school with merit. I was the last in the family. It took so much strength from my dear mama to raise us all. I owe her an immeasurable debt. And still I finished ten years schooling and then studied at technical college for another year where I got a diploma. I am now working as a senior machinist at the pumping station in the oil refinery in the town of Novokuibyshevsk. I am raising my daughter Liudochka and I am thinking of going to technical college. I work eight-hour shifts and want to study further. My mama has been living with me for a year now. She’s very old, sixty-eight.
Dear Valyusha, I am so proud that you are such a good, sympathetic girl who will help people in their hour of need. Every day I listened to the broadcasts from Moscow and like everyone worried about your safe flight and your safe return to earth. Hooray, you made it back! It’s so good that everything went well. Congratulations, Valyusha, on your heroic flight and successful landing.
Thank you so very much. Lots of kisses.
Dear Valyusha, I hope you can find a free minute to reply to my letter.
How did you feel during the flight? How’s your health? Please send me a photograph if you can. I beg you. Say a big hello to Bykovsky, your brother in the heavens.
I wish you a happy life and success in your personal life. And good health.
A big thank you to your mama for raising such a daughter. All the women at work say hello. And hello from my husband, Fedya, and my elderly mom too.
I sincerely thank you for your feat and am infinitely proud of you. It is such a joy that there are no boundaries, no limits to it. Once again many thanks, my dear Valentina.
I’ll stop writing here. Goodbye for now. I look forward to hearing from you.
Kissing you robustly and so proud of you.
With warmest regards,
Valentina Vladimirovna Zorkina
This letter features in the new collection, Letters of Note: Space, alongside correspondence from Buzz Aldrin,Yuri Gagarin, Ann Druyan, Stanley Kubrick, Alexander Graham Bell, Neil DeGrasse Tyson & many others. And for the uninitiated: an online version of this newsletter exists at news.lettersofnote.com. Or you can subscribe to have it sent directly to your inbox instead.