Russia marks anniversary of spaceflight by woman

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

MOSCOW -- Russian space officials marked the 40th anniversary of a woman's first spaceflight Monday by presenting nine new candidates for space missions -- the first such recruitment in six years.

Cosmonauts' luster has faded since Valentina Tereshkova's three-day flight in 1963, after their generous benefits withered with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Still, the candidates presented Monday, all men, said they had long dreamed of becoming cosmonauts.

"I like this profession, and I think I would be able to serve my country well," said Russian air force Capt. Anatoly Ivanishin.

Tereshkova's flight contributed to the prestige and dominance of the Soviet space program after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961. Russian television channels marked the date with historic footage and interviews with Tereshkova, now 66.

Tereshkova, whose call sign was Gull, has said she felt unwell during her parts of her flight but delivered vigorous reports to Mission Control and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev anyhow.

In an interview with Channel One television aired Monday, Tereshkova said her mission was planned to last a day but would be extended if she felt good.

"We had an agreement ... that if everything is fine after the first 24 hours, I will be permitted to fly for another two days," she said.

Tereshkova also recalled her rough landing: "My nose suffered -- I had a good bruise."

The new group of cosmonaut recruits were presented at the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City near Moscow. They enter a two-year program to undergo strenuous physical training, study the way spacecraft work and learn English, the language of the U.S.-led International Space Station.

Since discarding its own Mir space station in March 2001, Russia's manned space program has hinged entirely on the international outpost.

The recruits include four military pilots, three engineers, a physicist and a doctor. Officials said some future recruits might be women.

The prestigious training unit also accepted two candidates from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, home to the Baikonur cosmodrome. Russia now leases the Soviet-built base and had pledged to train the nation's cosmonauts as part of the deal.

About 200 people have been trained to be Soviet and then Russian cosmonauts over the past four decades, and about half actually take part in space missions. The last recruits were accepted in 1997.

The Feb. 1 destruction of the space shuttle Columbia and the subsequent grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet gave new importance to the Russian space program. Its Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo ships now provide the only link to the International Space Station, which is now occupied by a Russian and an American.

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