Image: Leonid Popov, Svetlana Savitskaya, and Aleksandr Serebrov on a 1983 USSR post stamp
The Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin famously said that “the second comes right after the first”. But for Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman in space, it took 19 years to follow the footsteps of the first female cosmonaut.
Thirty eight years ago today, Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman to leave the Earth.
On August 19th, 1982, three cosmonauts, Svetlans Savitskaya, Leonid Popov and Alexandr Serebrov, were launched into space aboard the Soyuz T-7 spacecraft. Destination- the Soviet Space Station Salyut 7.
Salyut 7, unlike the International Space Station today, was not occupied continuously. In almost 9 years of its operation the Station welcomed 6 resident and 5 visiting crews.
Savitskaya, Popov and Serebrov were one of the visiting crews. They spent a week in orbit, living and conducting experiments aboard the Station. On August 29th the three cosmonauts safely returned back to Earth.
By the time she was recruited, Savitskaya already was a decorated pilot and parachutist. The daughter of the legendary fighter pilot, twice Hero of the Soviet Union and Marshal of Aviation Yevgeny Savitsky, she came into parachute sport at a young age of 16.
Later Svetlana graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute as a flight instructor and then qualified as a test pilot. Savitskaya won the 1970 World Aerobatic Championship at Hullavington Airfield, England. She also set a number of world records, both as a pilot and a parachutist.
In 1980 she joined the Cosmonaut Corps and after 2 years of training completed – flawlessly- her first space mission.
Two years after the 1982 space flight, Sovitskaya returned to Salyut 7 for another short stay. As part of the new mission, she and her crewmate Vladimir Dzhanibekov conducted a 3 hour 35 minutes long spacewalk, that
involved ”cutting, welding and soldering on metal plates and spraying of coating” while Mr. Dzhanibekov carried out photography and television reporting. Then they switched roles (source).
This second space flight earned Savitskaya several new titles: the first woman to conduct a spacewalk and the first woman to fly into space twice. To date, Svetlana remains the only Soviet / Russian female cosmonaut to conduct an EVA.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go into space. On June 16, 1963, she blasted off to spend almost 3 days in orbit around the Earth. Her flight didn’t quite go as planned and the Soviet “Chief Designer” Sergey Korolev was reportedly unsatisfied with her performance. Many sources mention that Korolev said that no woman is ever going to step aboard his ship again. It looks like the Chief was true to his word, for it was only after Korolev’s death that the Soviet officials decided to recruit another female cosmonaut.The reason behind this decision was, supposedly, to beat Americans, who at the time were preparing to launch the first female astronaut. And beat them they did. NASA astronaut Sally Ride went into Space 10 months after Sovitskaya, becoming the third woman to do so.
Interestingly, although the Soviets outpaced the rest of the world in sending women into space, they seem to have lost interest in the female spaceflight. Up to date only 4 Soviet/ Russian women have flown into Space: Valentina Tereshkova, Svetlana Savitskaya, Yelena Kondakova (1994 and 1997) and, most recently, Yelena Serova (2014). The latest 2018 cohort of cosmonaut candidates is all-male 🤔.
Want to learn more?
If you want to find out more about the Salyut 7 Space Station, check out the Amazon docudrama Salyut 7: The True Story of the Soviet ‘Apollo 13’. It’s quite interesting! Please follow it up with our Blog post Salyut 7: movie and reality in which we discuss what part of the movie follows the real events, what part is exaggerated and what – made up for the sake of looking good on the screen.
If you have any further questions or comments, do not hesitate to get in touch. Our Inflatable Planetarium Dome team would love to hear from you!