America may have been first to put a man on the moon, but the history the Apollo 11 crew made 50 years ago this week is eclipsed in the view of the New York Times by the Soviet Union being first in the race and gender “equality” department, according to a piece earlier this week on the Times’ website.
“The Cold War was fought as much on an ideological front as a military one, and the Soviet Union often emphasized the sexism and racism of its capitalist opponents – particularly the segregated United States,” wrote Sophie Pinkham in “How the Soviets Won the Space Race for Equality” – subhead: “The USSR sent women and people of color to space years before the U.S.”
“And the space race was a prime opportunity to signal the USSR’s commitment to equality. After putting the first man in space in 1961, the Soviets went on to send the first woman, the first Asian man, and the first black man into orbit – all years before the Americans would follow suit.”
Pinkham wrote that the director of Soviet cosmonaut training put in his diary in 1961 that “We cannot allow the first woman in space to be American. This would be an insult to the patriotic feelings of Soviet women.” Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev “agreed, and the search for candidates began.”
Pinkham’s website – sophiepinkham.com – is festooned with a drawn image of bathing suit-clad people enjoying a pool party with a red flag and a ball that reads CCCP – the old Russian abbreviation for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – in the background.
It declares she is a “writer and academic specializing in Russian and Ukrainian culture and politics” and promotes a book she wrote about the Ukraine.
The first woman was Valentina Tereshkova, a 26-year-old factory-worker-turned-cosmonaut, who flew a solo mission in 1963 that orbited the Earth 48 times. “Ardent female fans in the USSR saw her triumph as a welcome reaffirmation of the Soviet commitment to gender equality, while women outside the Soviet Union took it as proof that there was no limit to what women could achieve,” Pinkham gushed.
The U.S. would not send a woman into space until Sally Ride in 1983.
This yielded the first Asian in space, she wrote, — Vietnamese pilot Phan Tuan, who flew in July 1980. It also yielded the first African – a pilot in the Cuban Revolutionary Guard named Tamayo Mendez, whom Pinkham informs us that “like Tereshkova,” he had “impeccable socialist credentials.”
This was no accident, Pinkham wrote. “Cosmonaut diversity was key for the Soviet message to the rest of the globe: Under socialism, a person of even the humblest origins could make it all the way up.”
One Twitter follower, who goes by the handle @hollymathnerd and writes about women in math and space fields, took issue with the assertion of the superiority of cosmonaut diversity.
“USSR and Soviet Russia combined? 4 women astronauts since 1963,” she tweeted. “Almost 50, including all these firsts: mother, Chinese-born woman, payload specialist, married couple, black woman, Hispanic woman, shuttle pilot and commander, ISS commander, and teacher. Also oldest.”
A later tweet read: “More USA distinctions for women astronauts: first Indian-American woman in space, first AND second female commander and pilot, most cumulative time in space (665 days), most EVAs, first woman to make 3rd, 4th and 5th flights. Five women (out of 11 total) in current astronaut class.
“Not bad for the space program of a deeply misogynist hellscape country that won’t let any women succeed in STEM, eh?”