MOSCOW - On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space in a scientific feat that was a major propaganda coup for the Soviet Union.

Two years after Yuri Gagarin's historic first manned flight, Tereshkova blasted off in a Vostok-6 spaceship, becoming a national heroine at the age of 26.

She remains the only woman ever to have made a solo space flight.

In April 1962, officials narrowed down the candidates for the flight to five. In a top-secret process, they picked two engineers, one school teacher, one typist and one factory worker who had performed 90 parachute jumps: this was Tereshkova.

After seven months of intensive training, they chose Tereshkova, who grew up in a peasant family and was a Communist Youth (Komsomol) leader at her textile factory in the historic city of Yaroslavl, about 280 kilometers (174 miles) from Moscow.

Tereshkova was not allowed to confide even in family members, who only learnt of her exploit when Moscow announced it to the entire world.

When she blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, another Soviet spaceship, Vostok-5, was already in orbit for two days, piloted by cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky.

During her three-day mission, Tereshkova circled Earth 48 times. On the first day, she communicated with Bykovsky and even sang him songs. Their communication was then interrupted as the two spaceships moved further away from each other.