Just as China sends their second astronaut (or “taikonaut”) into space to dock with the nation’s prototype space station, the first woman of all time to orbit the Earth is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary (on June 16) of achieving her feat. Valentina Tereshkova completed her solo flight around the Earth in 1963, a major propaganda coup for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But now, the 76-year-old feels it’s time to make an even bigger leap into interplanetary space.
“Mars is my favorite planet,” said Tereshkova said during a press conference at cosmonaut training center in Star City, near Moscow, on Friday. She likes the Red Planet so much that she’d be happy to join the crew of a one-way mission.
Sadly, her dream of retiring on Mars will probably remain just that. The most ambitious — and, unfortunately, ill-thought-out — plan would see an international team of astronauts land on the Martian surface by 2023. But even if the Mars One mission did come to fruition, Tereshkova will be 86-years-old.
But she has a point; it’s likely that we’d see older astronauts making the interplanetary hop in the future. Radiation levels will be high during transit to Mars, so individuals beyond childbearing age will likely be chosen as the “first wave” of colonists.
What’s more, Tereshkova is probably one of the more qualified people on the planet to endure the Mars trip. She completed 48 orbits around Earth during her historic mission when she was 26-years-old and was selected to work in a team analyzing the viability of a mission to Mars.
“But we know the human limits. And for us this remains a dream. Most likely the first flight will be one way. But I am ready,” she told reporters.
Images: Top: Valentina Tereshkova speaking at Star City, Moscow, on June 7. Middle: Cosmonaut Tereshkova in her space suit helmet in 1963. Credit: Corbis