MOSCOW The world's first female astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, marking her 70th birthday on Tuesday, says she still dreams of flying to Mars -- even on a one-way ticket.
In June 1963, 25-year-old Tereshkova spent 71 hours in orbit on board a Soviet Vostok spacecraft, earning a niche in the history books and scoring propaganda points for the Soviet Union in its Cold War space rivalry with the United States.
The story of the peasant's daughter who became a household name thanks to communism's achievements made her a role model for young Soviet women. Her photograph smiling from a space suit became an icon.
President Vladimir Putin, who invited Tereshkova to his residence near Moscow to mark her birthday, said her flight remained an inspiration for the resurgent Russia of today.
"Your flight was, and will remain, a matter of pride for the Soviet people, for the Russian people," he told Tereshkova who sported the gold star of the Hero of the Soviet Union on her black suit.
Tereshkova all but disappeared from public life after the Soviet Union collapsed and now heads an obscure international cooperation association under the auspices of the foreign ministry and takes part in private projects helping orphans.
"I want you to know I will serve the country to the end," she told Putin.
But in an interview with Komsomoskaya Pravda daily published on Tuesday she disclosed another cherished dream.
"If I had money, I would enjoy flying to Mars," she said. "This was the dream of the first cosmonauts. I wish I could realize it! I am ready to fly without coming back."