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June 17, 1963: First woman in space

June 17, 1963
June 17, 1963 The San Diego Union

The San Diego Union-Tribune will mark its 150th anniversary in 2018 by presenting a significant front page from the archives each day throughout the year.

Monday, June 17, 1963

In June 1963, twenty-six-year-old Valentina Tereshkova of Russia became the first woman in space. Tereshkova was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union on a solo mission aboard Vostok 6. She spent 71 hours in flight, orbiting the Earth 48 times before returning safely.

Women pilots said the United States had missed its chance to achieve the space milestone.

In the early 1960s, 13 women passed the same medical and stress tests as the Mercury astronauts, but NASA required all astronaut candidates to have military jet test pilot experience. Congress shut down the U.S. Women-in-Space program in 1962.

American women would face a long wait.

It would be two decades before NASA astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel in space when she flew on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

After she left NASA, Ride joined the physics faculty at UC San Diego in 1989, and started Sally Ride Science to encourage children to explore careers in science and technology. The La Jolla physicist died of pancreatic cancer in 2012 at age 61.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the story:

Russia Orbits Woman; Space Link-Up Seen

PILOTS’ REACTION

U.S. Muffed Its Chance, Women Say

Aileen Saunders of San Diego, one of America’s best known women fliers, said yesterday she felt sure the United States could have put a woman into orbit ahead of the Soviet Union.

She admitted, however, that she wouldn’t have wanted the job.

“When I take off in an airplane I like to know I’m coming back to this good old earth,” said the two-time winner of the transcontinental Powder Puff Derby.

ADVANTAGES SEEN

Mrs. Saunders, 36, said she thought the United States could have snared a “first” by launching a woman astronaut “and I think this would have boosted U.S. prestige.”

“I feel women physically can take out space better than men,” she said. “I’ve talked to some doctors and they said we can take changes better because of our physical makeup. Also, we’re smaller and would take up less room in a spaceship.”

PILOT OF YEAR

Mrs Saunders, who in 1960 was voted “pilot of the year” by the National pilots Association, lives at 1303 W. Lewis St.

Mrs. Saunders predicted that the United States eventually will put a woman into space, “otherwise why would they have put Jerrie Cobb through all that training?” She referred to a Ponca City, Okla., aviatrix who passed some of the same tests taken by several astronauts in the Project Mercury program.

Reached by a news service reporter in Oklahoma City yesterday, Miss Cobb said she prayed for the safe return of Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereskova, the 26-year-old parachute enthusiast now in orbit.

However, said Miss Cobb, the United States could have scored “one of the remaining space firsts” if it had launched a woman ahead of the Russians.

The Oklahoma aviatrix said she fought for three years to make an American woman the first in space and still felt the feat could be achieved “within a few months.”

REACTIONS VARY

San Diego County woman pilots interviewed on the idea of a woman in space had varied reactions.

Mrs. Marian Jepsen of 460 Grand Ave., Del Mar, said she wished she were younger “so I could qualify for a space trip. I’m 42 and no American woman over 39 ever was considered. I’d sure love to make a space flight.I wouldn’t be afraid.”

Mrs. Jepsen has competed in seven Powder Puff Derbys and finished third in 1956.

FEELS NO ENVY

Mrs. Carolyn Huntington of 875 Adele St., veteran of four transcontinental air races, said she’d be “scared to death” to venture into space. “I don’t envy her (the Russian woman cosmonaut) one bit.

Mrs. Harold O. Bishop of 6232 La Jolla Blvd., La Jolla, a grandmother, said “of course” she’d like to go into orbit.

“Most all women pilots in this country would like to have been the first woman in space,” she said.

Mrs. Bishop flew in an international air race from Canada to Florida in April.

View anniversary front pages online at sandiegouniontribune.com/150-years. For more from the Union-Tribune digital archives, go to newslibrary.com/sites/sdub. Searching is free, with registration. A fee is required to view full stories.

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