Slow progress since a female astronaut first blasted through the glass ceiling 50 years ago

Slow progress since a female astronaut first blasted through the glass ceiling 50 years ago


Slow progress since a female astronaut first blasted through the glass ceiling 50 years ago

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 18 June 2013


“The further away the spaceship drifts, the more you start to miss the sounds of nature, of rainfall,” Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova said of her historic journey into space 50 years ago this week.

Tereshkova was the first woman in space.

She was 26 when, dressed in an orange space suit, she strapped herself into the capsule Vostok 6 and was blasted into orbit. “Ya Chaika, ya Chaika.” (I am Seagull) – she repeated her call sign on lift-off on the 16 June 1963 in a film that became famous around the world at the time.

She returned three days later to a hero’s welcome. The Russians had already sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961, but, for many Russians, Tereshkova was the cause of almost as much celebration.

She had been taken from obscurity to fame in a very short time. Until only a few years before Tereshkova had been working in a textile factory in Yaroslavl, 150 miles north-east of Moscow, and in her spare time was a member of the parachute club.

After Gagarin’s space flight, Tereshkova sent a letter to the authorities asking for the chance to become a cosmonaut. She, and four others, were selected from more than 400 applicants and began training in March 1962.

After her successful flight, she went into politics. She is currently an MP for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

It would take the US 20 year to catch up, only sending Sally Ride into space in 1983 when she joined the space shuttle Challenger as a crew member.

But perhaps the most iconic female astronaut was the tragic Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire, in the US, who was killed on the way to space in the Challenger disaster of 1986.

Helen Sharman was the first Briton to make it, spending nearly eight days at the Soviet Mir space station in 1991.

To date there have been 534 people in space – defined as a flight over 100 kilometres in altitude (62 miles) – of which only 57 have been women. However, efforts to address that imbalance have been made; Nasa announced this week that half of its new batch of astronauts were women. The announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the launch of Dr Ride into space.



Questions for discussion or research:

  • Pick a female astronaut mentioned in the story and make a poster about their life and their legacy. Where could you find out more about them?
  • Some people question whether we should be spending money on space travel when there are problems to be solved on Earth. Do you agree?
  • What subjects do you think you would need to study at school in order to become an astronaut?
  • Would you want to go into space? Why/why not?

Resources for you


The Space Race

  • Ideal for primary, this PowerPoint introduces basic information about the solar system and a timeline for the Russian-American race to the Moon.

Rocket Science – Helen Sharman interview

  • Join British astronaut Dr Helen Sharman and former Soviet cosmonaut Anatoly Artsebarsky in this Royal Society video as they talk about their rigorous training, their research in space and what it is like to live in zero gravity.

Equal opportunities

  • From Teachers TV, a video about the history of gender equality and how factory workers went on strike for equal pay.

Stellar evolution

  • Discover the evolution of stars and what happens at each stage in their life.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


Russian president Vladimir Putin is rumoured to be planning a dip in a nearby lake, US president Barack Obama is charming local teenaged crowds and UK prime minister David Cameron, the host, is simply trying to keep world leaders from scrapping.

Scientists in Singapore have unveiled a new development in "invisibility cloak" technology that is sure to excite children, even the few who are not fascinated by Harry Potter.

Train drivers in Sweden were banned from wearing shorts to keep cool in the hot summer weather – so they decided to wear skirts.

One in four people will experience mental illness at some stage in their lives.



In the news archive index