The Soviet Union showed that one-upmanship still existed among the superpowers’ space programs into the 1980s. After NASA accepted its first group of women astronauts in January 1978, the U.S.S.R. accepted a new round of female cosmonauts in 1980, nearly 20 years after they sent the first (and at that time only) woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space.
Out of that group Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman to enter space on Aug. 19, 1982, beating the first American woman, Sally Ride by about
Savitskaya piloted the
three-person Soyuz T-7 crew, which launched aboard a Cosmos 1443 rocket, to the Salyut 7 space station for an eight-day mission. During that
mission the crew performed several biological experiments, including observing how a woman’s physiology reacts to a microgravity environment.
Savitskaya’s crew left the space station Aug. 27 in the Soyuz T-5, which had been docked to the space station. Although she was the second woman in space, Savitskaya does have two firsts to her credit. She became the first woman to fly multiple times in space on July 17, 1984, as the pilot of the Soyuz T-12. And July 25 of that year, she became the first woman to perform a spacewalk. In all she spent about
four hours outside Salyut 7.
Like Tereshkova, Savitskaya was chosen for political reasons, but the similarities end there. Savitskaya was no face-in-the-crowd; her father, Yeveniy Savitsky, played a large part in helping her achieve her dream of going into space. Savitsky was the deputy commander of the Soviet Air Defences, a World War II ace and twice decorated as a national hero. Although she received a leg up because of her father’s position, it takes nothing away from her accomplishments as a pilot.
While Tereshkova was an ordinary woman before becoming a cosmonaut, Savitskaya was anything but. She took up parachute training at the age of 16
after being rejected by an amateur flight school because of her young age.
Initially, she hid her parachuting activity from her father, but when he found out about it he supported her.
At 18, she joined the Moscow Aviation Institute – the nation’s premier school of aeronautics and aeronautical engineering – and two years later, Savitskaya flew with the Soviet national Aerobatics Team. She graduated from the flight institute in 1972 and became a flight trainer.
Despite holding world records in parachuting, turbo-prop planes and supersonic aircraft, Savitskaya had difficulty entering the test pilot school. But once there she qualified to pilot 20 different types of aircraft.
Savitskaya was scheduled to command an all-female crew in 1986 to the Salyut 7 for International Woman’s Day but the space station began to deteriorate and there was a lack of available Soyuz T spacecraft.
In 1987 she became deputy to the chief designer for Energia,
which manufactures hardware for human spaceflights, and two years later became a member of the Duma. Savitskaya retired from the cosmonaut corps in 1993.