She was born Marina Lavrentievna Vasiliyeva in 1831 in the Smolensk Oblast in the west of Russia and was evacuated to Novosibirsk in south-central Russia during World War Two.
Her interest in flying began when she was a child but at that time the Soviet Union barred women from serving as military pilots. However, at the age of sixteen, Popovich wrote to Marshal Kliment Voroshilov asking to be admitted to a flying school. He intervened on her behalf and she was admitted to the Novosibirsk Aviation Technicum where she graduated in 1951.
She began working as an engineer and then as a flying instructor, and by the early 1960s had married Pavel Popovich. Both applied to become cosmonauts in the Soviet space programme but after two months training, Popovich was turned away while Pavel was accepted and became the eighth person in space on Vostok 4 in 1962.
[themedy_pullright colour=”red” colour_custom=”” text=”Popovich became known as ‘Madame MiG’”]Popovich became a Soviet Air Force pilot in 1963 and a year later became a military test pilot. She broke the sound barrier in 1964 in a MiG 21 and became known as ‘Madame MiG’. She entered the military reserves in 1978 and joined the Antonov Design Bureau as a test pilot where she set ten flight records for distance and speed on the Antonov An-22, the world’s largest turboprop aircraft. Some of those records still stand today.
She retired in 1984 and embarked on a career as an author, writing nine books and two screenplays as a member of the Russian Writers’ Union, but more intriguing was Popovich’s interest in UFO research. In 2003 she published ‘UFO Glasnost’ claiming that Soviet military and civilian pilots had confirmed 3,000 UFO sightings and that the Soviet Air Force and the KGB had recovered fragments of five crashed UFOs.
Popovich’s honours included the Order of the Red Banner and won the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s Great Gold Medal for the distribution of aeronautical knowledge in 1972.
She died in December 2017 at the age of 86 and a star in the Cancer constellation bears her name.