MOSCOW -- Soviet spacewoman Svetlana Savitskaya is strikingly down-to-earth.
The 34-year-old brunette last August became the second woman in history to soar into orbit in a space capsule. She and four male cosmonauts spent a week aboard the Salyut 7 space station.
That launched her from obscurity to celebrity, hailed by the Soviet press as 'Miss Sensation' -- a title first bestowed upon her by the British when she became world aerobatics champion at age 22.
Ms. Savitskaya seems to have taken it all in stride.
In her first interview with Western correspondents, she was cool and stylish, wearing a blue-and-gray plaid dress with matching fake-suede boots.
In previous public appearances, she showed a marked disregard for feminine touches, her long dark hair always pulled back in a severe ponytail with bangs cut square across her forehead.
Up close, she reveals a dazzling smile she uses to deflect awkward or frivolous questions. A sense of humor flashes occasionally from beneath a serious, authoritative demeanor.
About herself and her achievement, she is entirely matter of fact.
'I was completely in agreement that women should fly in space,' she said, putting a gloss on her long fight to convince skeptical Soviet male space officials that women could be trusted not to panic in orbit.
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut, reportedly was terrified during her historic 1963 flight. Her reaction cast a 19-year pall on the idea of women as cosmonauts.
Ms. Savitskaya, who radiates competence and confidence, overcame any fears she may have had herself by virtually eliminating the word from her vocabulary.
'Fright is a result of an encounter with the unknown,' she said. During training, the cosmonauts simulated all possible situations so 'we were insured against the possibility of fright.'
Her life story reads like a textbook on how to be a cosmonaut.
Her father is Air Force Marshal Yevgeny Savitsky, twice hero of the Soviet Union for his World War II exploits. Her brother is a pilot, and she followed in his footsteps. She began to fly, and parachute, at a young age.
At 17, she captured three world records doing 500 jumps. After graduation from the Moscow Institute of Aviation Technology she became a test pilot, and 11 of the 18 speed records she set still stand.
But Ms. Savitskaya portrays herself as a typical Soviet woman who happens to fly in space.
Her typical day, she said, is 'pretty much like that of any Soviet woman. I get up, fix breakfast for me and my husband. Sometimes he fixes it -- there is full equality in our household. Then I go to work, come home ...' Her voice trails off.
She devotes much of her time to study -- 'to keep up is important.' Results of her space flight are still being studied, and some time goes to evaluations.
Ms. Savitskaya spoke warmly but sparingly of her husband, Viktor. They have no children.
'If it was not for the help of my husband with moral and daily problems, if not for his understanding, I don't think my flight would have been possible,' she said. The fact that he is a pilot also helps.
'Almost all my girlfriends from the aviation institute married pilots,' she said.
She makes no mention of the rumors in Moscow that, only days before her flight, her husband piloted a plane that crashed, killing several people. If true, she clearly overcame whatever anguish the crash caused her and flew regardless.
She is politically doctrinaire.
'Only a socialist revolution can give full equality,' she said. 'From space you see how small the world really is, and that a limited nuclear war would be impossible.'
Ms. Savitskaya also revealed some artistic sensibility, describing the beauty of North America seen at night, 'the fantastic sight of storm clouds against the background of the night world.'
Nothing in her hourlong interview shed light on the cosmonaut described by the Soviet press at the time of her space flight -- a woman fond of sewing, pleased to be presented with an apron on arrival at the space station, her 'presence of mind and courage concealed by her charm and femininity' who had an 'ennobling influence' on her crewmates.
Ms. Savitskaya emphasized her equality with the men on board and the easier adjustment to weightlessness for females.
She said problems related to the equality of sexes in the Soviet Union 'are like the air -- we don't even notice them anymore.'
As for the future, she would be happy to take a second flight into space -- perhaps, she said, as part of an all-female crew.