Monday, June 18, 2012

China sends its first female astronaut into space

From DNAIndia : China sends its first female astronaut into space

Liu Yang, a pilot in the People's Liberation Army, has made history by becoming the first Chinese woman to go into space.

The 33 year-old is among the three member crew of the Shenzhou 9 mission, the latest step in China's increasingly ambitious space programme.

As a child Liu Yang's earliest ambition was to be a bus conductor, so she could get to travel on the bus every day. But yesterday (Saturday) she was travelling at several times the speed of sound aboard a Long March rocket.

The Shenzhou 9 mission, which blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the remote northwest of China yesterday evening, is a crucial test for China's rapidly-evolving space programme. The ten-day mission will see the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft perform the first manned docking with the Tiangong-1 space lab, a vital step towards China's ambition to have a working space station by 2020.

But it was the presence of Major Liu among the three-member crew that dominated the build-up to Saturday's launch, the fourth manned mission China has sent into space since its first in 2003. Formally introduced to the Chinese people at a televised press conference on Friday, Major Liu has become China's newest national heroine. She is the top subject of discussion on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, with a staggering 33 million posts greeting the announcement that she was to be the first Chinese woman in space.

A communist party member known for giving rousing patriotic speeches, Major Liu has not disappointed her millions of new fans, saying at Friday's press conference how she "yearned to gaze upon the motherland" from space. "I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honoured to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens," said Major Liu.

Married, a requirement for all of China's female astronauts, with a passion for cooking and now resident in Beijing, Major Liu has enjoyed a dizzying rise, having only been selected to join the astronaut programme two years ago. Born and raised in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan Province, she has been described as a diligent and quiet schoolgirl who enjoyed playing volleyball.

Enrolling in the air force in 1997, Major Liu trained to be a transport plane pilot in Changchun, in the northeastern province of Jilin. Named as a 'model pilot' by the PLA in 2010, she first demonstrated her coolness under pressure in 2003 by safely landing a plane after its right engine had been disabled when it was struck by birds soon after take-off.

Major Liu is the 56th woman to go into space. Her role will be to run the scientific experiments set be to be carried out during the mission.

Shenzhou 9 is expected to dock with the experimental Tiangong-1 space lab in around two days. Major Liu and her two male companions will then spend a week aboard the cramped module. At some point, they will disengage Shenzhou 9 from the space lab and then re-dock it manually. China must master such techniques if it is to achieve its goal of building its own space station by 2020.


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