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Akilina "Leena" Mikhailovna Chirikova

Full Name: Akilina Mikhailovna Chirikova

Date of Birth: June 10, 1937

Occupation: Member of the Air Force Cosmonaut Corps, female cosmonaut group

Personal History: Akilina was born in Stalingrad, and until the age of five her life was unremarkable.  Her father, Mikhail Andreyevich Chirikov, was a low ranking civil servant and member of the communist party, and her mother, Irina Ivanovna Chirikova, was the child of Russian gypsies. Though Stalin had outlawed the Romany language and culture the year after Akilina’s birth, Irina still taught her daughter the language in secrecy. Because of her husband’s good standing with the party, Irina escaped the purges and pogroms which sent so many other Romany to the salt mines. In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War, Hitler’s armies began their long siege of the city, and that winter, in a fire caused by a barrage of incendiaries, Mikhail and Irina lost their lives. Akilina, only five years old, survived, and for the remaining months of the siege lived a feral existence, scrounging for scraps, finding warmth and safety where she could. After the Battle of Stalingrad, Akilina was taken into a state run orphanage. When she was old enough, she enlisted in the Red Army. Akilina excelled at both hand-to-hand combat and languages, and was assigned to a radio listening post in East Berlin. Akilina later applied for and was accepted into a training program of the Air Defense Forces of the VVS. Women had served as pilots since the days of the Great Patriotic War, but their numbers were still small compared to the percentage of men fliers. Though Akilina scored highest marks on all examinations, and executed her test flights perfectly, after being fully certified as a pilot and parachutist she was given a desk assignment in the offices of the Air Defense Forces, tracking materiel requests and personnel movements.

In January 1962, when Akilina was 24 years old, her application was one of 58 submitted by DOSAAF as cosmonaut candidates, and she was one of 40 selected to go to Moscow for interviews. In June, Akilina is one of six selected for cosmonaut training, and is relocated to TsPK (Cosmonaut Training Center) at Star City. Each of the six was given their own apartment, and the rigorous training began. In November, each of the members of the female cosmonaut group were given academic tests and interviewed, to determine which of them would be the first woman in space. Of the six, Ponomaryova had the best test results, but did not give “proper” replies in the interviews. When asked “What do you want from life?” she replied, “I want to take everything it can offer.” Tereshkova, on the other hand, intoned “I want to support irrevocably the Komsomol and Communist Party.” Ponomaryova also maintained that a woman could smoke and still be a decent person, and had made trips unescorted into Fedosiya while there for training. However despite what were considered very grave drawbacks, the final choice was still between Tereshkova and Ponomaryova. Chirikova placed third behind them, not quite as technically astute as Ponomaryova and not quite as ideologically pure as Tereshkova. Tereshkova, though, the only one of the women tested not to receive the highest marks in the academic tests, was selected to be the first woman in space.

In November 1963, Chirikova is selected for Vostok 7, with Ponomaryova as her second. The mission called for a ten-day high altitude orbit through the Van Allen radiation belt for radiological-biological tests, at the end of which the craft’s orbit would be allowed to naturally decay to re-entry. The craft launched from Star City on April 1, 1964. Ten hours into the mission, ground stations lost radio contact with the craft, and Vostok 7 was presumed lost.

Known Relatives: Mikhail Andreyevich Chirikov (father), Irina Ivanovna Chirikova (mother), Sinovia Hieronymovna Chirikova (daughter)

Associates: Sergei Vasilevich Tabanov, a rocket technician and former lover of Akilina’s, who died in October 22, 1960 during the Nedelin Catastrophe, which killed 74 people immediately, and 48 more in the ensuing weeks from burns or contact with the toxic and corrosive propellants.

Physical Description: Akilina is 5’6”, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and a slightly crooked nose, the result of a broken-nose when she was a child during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Equipment: Akilina carries a chrome-plated Makarov semi-automatic pistol, standard issue in her emergency survival kit.

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