There's a reason why nothing gets your name written larger in history books than being first at something. Humanity is all about breaking new ground and reaching new frontiers, so of course we idolize those who were the first up Mount Everest, or to find out what happens when you cram a bunch of Mentos up your ass and sit down in a bathtub full of Diet Coke. But a whole lot of these famous firsts are credited to the wrong people, due to politics, bad luck, or outright lies.
For instance ...
5Sally Ride Was Not the First Woman in Space
When it comes to space travel, most of us have room in our brains to remember the first few explorers and maybe one horrific explosion, but all the other astronauts and missions get jumbled together in a hazy mess. We know, for instance, that the first man to orbit the Earth was John Glenn, the first moon walk was Neil Armstrong, and, of course, the first woman in space -- thus striking a mighty blow for gender equality by disproving the myths that menstruating ladies attract space bears -- was Sally Ride.
Yeah, like that space shuttle in the background isn't the least bit suggestive.
Except That ...
Sally Ride wasn't the first woman in space at all, or even the second. Before we get to who it was, take a minute to think back through all the names you know of famous space explorers ... they're all awfully American-sounding, aren't they? Well, your history books didn't do that by accident.
During the space race, every time the USSR accomplished something noteworthy, the United States made a bunch of sitcom-ish gestures in front of the world news coverage while hoping John Q. Public would never notice. Then, once America accomplished the same feat, we'd shower ourselves in accolades and insist that everyone call us pioneers. That's why you probably didn't know that the first woman in space was actually Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.
In June of 1963, when Ride was just 12 years old, Tereshkova was already taking laps around the Earth aboard the Vostok 6. Her first mission made 48 full orbits during 70.8 hours, which works out to one orbit every one and a half hours. Oh, and she was also the first civilian in space. Before becoming a cosmonaut, her only experience with aircraft was abandoning them in midflight as a professional parachutist.
Yet by the time she finally hung up her spacesuit, Tereshkova had racked up more time in space than all United States astronauts combined. Of course she was silly with awards by then for her extraordinary contributions to space exploration, but the U.S. quietly forced an ether-soaked flag over the mouths of history book writers and jotted down Sally Ride's name instead, despite the fact that she was two decades late.
RIA Novosti / V. Malyshev
On the plus side, Tereshkova got hit on by Khrushchev. So there's that.
But don't assume the USSR got a raw deal in the space race, because ...