"The First Woman in Space - Part 3" By early July 1973, with the hardware for the female mission already tested and ready to be assembled at the Tyuratam cosmodrome, the women back from their leave, and their final pre-flight tests imminent, Chelomei sought the permission of the Council of Ministers to set a launch date. The Kuznetsova/Zarya anomaly, a decade before, still caused some political concerns and he had to fend off questions not only over the womens’ preparations and readiness, but also around irrational superstitions that women always brought misfortune to such to military operations. In the end, Chelomei had to give assurances that the planned flight would be 100% successful, and that the chosen woman would return to Earth fit and healthy, and ready to become a new Soviet heroine, and a poster girl the Party. He knew that, like any other manned mission, the flight would carry a tangible degree of risk, but he had to tell the politicians everything would be fine, or they would not sanction the mission. Concurrently with Chelomei’s political wrangling, after their return to the training centre, for the first time, each of the three women undertook two full simulated spaceflights, in real time, in the Orel ‘hot mock-up’. The first lasted just 24 hours, the second five days. During each ‘mission’ engineers created a number of challenges and problems for the cosmonaut to handle. Solovyova and Kotova each completed their ‘missions’ with flying colours, successfully ‘returning to earth’, on schedule, and in good physical and mental shape. However, Galina Korchuganova, was not so fortunate. Although her 24 hour mission was uneventful, on the second run, she was identified by doctors as showing signs of fatigue, during the latter stages of her ‘flight’. She then ran into problems during re-entry, which she struggled to deal with. Engineers determined that had she been in orbit, she would not have returned to earth safely. The next day, Shatalov had the tricky task of telling the shocked Korchuganova that she would not now, be considered for the real spaceflight. Clearly, this left two candidates, who, in the light of the Korchuganova incident were both required to fly yet another mission in the ‘hot mock-up’ albeit over just two days, and focusing on just the key phases of the flight. After both Solovyova and Kotova completed their second simulated flights without incident, Chelomei was satisfied. He knew that both women were ready, the hardware was ready, the leadership were ready, and the likelihood of a successful outcome was high. He signed the order to prepare for the launch attempt, in two weeks time. In late August, a week before the scheduled lift-off, Solovyova and Kotova, and their medical and technical support teams, plus Shatalov and other cosmonauts, flew to the Tyuratam, aboard an IL-18 passenger aircraft. The final decision on who would be the first woman in space would not be made until the last moment, to keep both candidates at peak physical and mental readiness. Korchuganova did not travel with them, but she fly down later, to witness the launch. Solovyova and Kotova had flown, and worked, together for several years, and were friends as well as rivals. All three girls had worked well together during the arduous training, with a strong teamwork and mutual support ethic, but with the launch imminent, the relationship between the remaining duo was more tense. Everything about their respective futures would be decided over the next few days. Technically, there was nothing to choose between the two candidates. Their skill levels in flight simulations, medical and physical tests, and evaluations of political and ideological reliability, were all closely matched. The final choice of the first woman in space would be a close run affair. On the day after their arrival at the cosmodrome, the two cosmonauts visited the vehicle assembly building, where engineers were preparing to encase the Orel spacecraft in its launch shroud, before it was mated to the Proton booster. The two women were given a guided tour of the hardware, impressing the engineers with their intelligent questioning. Later, both donned their pressure suits and, in turn, entered the Orel cockpit to gain a measure of familiarisation with the craft assigned to their mission. The supporting technicians were not only impressed by the cosmonauts’ technical awareness, but by their unruffled and professional demeanour. Otherwise, the final few days before the launch of the World’s first spacewoman were mostly occupied with light trainings, final flight briefings, and interviews with specially selected Soviet journalists, who had been flown down to witness the preparations, and the flight itself. Of course, nothing was to be reported in written or visual media until the chosen woman was safely in orbit. Lidiya Kotova, in particular, made a good impression with the newspaper and TV men. Although she was a military officer, and she conducted herself with appropriate discipline and restraint, she was photogenic, confident and charming in front of the microphone or camera, yet, also unassuming about her aviation achievements, qualifications, and her present remarkable situation. She was obviously skilled, tough and brave, but beneath her uniform, was just like any young Soviet woman of her age. Marina Solvyova was more direct in her style, talked proudly about her aviation records and other career achievements. She spoke calmly about the coming flight, and her wish to be the first female cosmonaut, but overall she lacked a spark, an edge, something to distinguish her, in her personality. Two veteran journalists N N Denisov from Pravda, and G I Ostroumov from Isvetiya, who Chelomei knew well from previous launches, spoke to him and showed him their notebooks. They told him that Kotova had really impressed them. There would be a major post-flight role for a woman cosmonaut who returned safely, and she had the required star potential. She was clearly exceptionally skilled and courageous, but could otherwise be anyone’s sister or daughter. It was an aspect that Chelomei had not really considered, but he noted their choice of words. It was a pivotal conversation. The launch of the UR500 Proton was scheduled for shortly after dawn on the prescribed September morning, and Chelomei determined that the final crew decision would be made three days before launch, and announced to the candidates later the same day. With less than 72 hours left until lift-off, both women underwent final thorough physical, medical and psychological examinations, before Chelomei’s selection panel met to make the final decision on who would be launched into space, and into the history books. It was a knife edge decision, considering training outcomes and all manner of other data collected over a period of a year. The doctors had confirmed that both women were in peak physical and mental condition and both were ready, and willing, to go. The discussions lasted several hours, until Chelomei himself settled the issue, and announced that Lidiya Kotova would fly. He would later suggest that her sparkling performance with the media, and her post flight potential, had been the decisive factor which had split two exceptional candidates. While the selectors had been meeting, the two female cosmonauts had been undertaking light training in the gym, followed by a leisurely three mile run, all under continuous supervision of their ‘minders.’ Many years later, Kotova would disclose that they hardly spoke during this period of several hours, such was the tension around the monumental decision. Eventually, late in the afternoon, the 28 year-old instructor pilot was brought before the selection board to be told the news that she was to be the first woman in space. Standing to attention, Kotova, maintained a professional façade, showing no emotion, as she was handed the assignment, before making a spirited, and assured, acceptance speech, confirming her commitment to the Motherland, the Party and the Air Force, and that she was ready to go. Moments later the formal meeting broke up and Chelomei looked across the room at the girl, now smiling broadly, and chatting informally to his team, as she was showered with handshakes and hugs. Chelomei smiled to himself. He knew, in that moment, that he had found the ideal woman for the task. Then he remembered that he still had to speak to Marina Solovyova.