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UPDATED: June 25, 2012 NO. 26 JUNE 28, 2012
A Further Step Into Space
The manned Shenzhou-9 takes the first Chinese woman into space and showcases space-docking technologies
By Yin Pumin

FULLY PREPARED: Astronauts Jing Haipeng (center), Liu Wang (right) and Liu Yang attend the sending-off ceremony at the taikonauts' apartment compound of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province on June 16 (WEI YAO)

Holding up half the sky

The Shenzhou-9 crew includes the 45-year-old commanding officer Jing Haipeng, China's first two-time astronaut who entered space aboard the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft in September 2008, Liu Wang, a 43-year-old former air force pilot who has been an astronaut trainee since January 1998, and Liu Yang, 33, China's first female astronaut.

China is the third country in the world to use its own technologies to send a woman into space, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

"The participation of the first woman astronaut will help test the products and equipment that China develops for women in space, and evaluate its selection standards and training tactics for women astronauts," Wu Said.

Born in central China's Henan Province, Liu Yang is a People's Liberation Army (PLA) major. She was once a PLA Air Force pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience and deputy head of a military flight unit before being recruited as an astronaut trainee in May 2010.

After two years of training to shore up her astronautic skills and adaptability to the harsh environment of space, Liu excelled in testing and was selected in March this year as a candidate for the Shenzhou-9 manned space mission.

"I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of Chinese women," Liu told the press on June 15. She is mandated to conduct medical experiments and other space tests during the mission.

Liu has been described by her two crewmates as "outgoing, sincere, well-versed and sensitive."

Like most Chinese of her generation, Liu is the only child of her family. In her colleagues' eyes, she is diligent and hardworking. She spent about two years on a space flight training program that usually takes three to five years to complete.

"Despite a late start for training as an astronaut, she is on the same page with us, which exceeds our expectations," Jing said.

Jing was also impressed by the swiftness and decisiveness Liu displayed during training sessions, citing her calm manner in responding to simulated emergencies.

"Space exploration activities would be incomplete without the participation of female astronauts," said Chen Shanguang, Director of the Astronaut Research and Training Center of China.

To date, more than 50 female astronauts from seven countries have gone into space. The first woman in space was former Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, who entered space on June 16, 1963. Women from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan and South Korea have also been to space. The longest space flight by a female astronaut in history lasted 188 days.

According to Wu, female astronauts have advantages of being thoughtful, meticulous and tolerant, which will help improve the crew's working efficiency. "Female astronauts generally have better durability, psychological stability and ability to deal with loneliness," she said.

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