China sends first female astronaut to space

People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force fighter pilot Liu Yang, as seen in March 2010, will be China's first woman in space.

Story highlights

  • Liu Yang becomes China's first woman in space
  • China aims to be third nation to perform a space docking
  • China aspires to build a space station and conduct a manned mission to the moon

China made history Saturday when it launched a spacecraft sending the nation's first female astronaut in space.

The Shenzhou-9 launched Saturday afternoon, carrying Liu Yang and two male astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang.

State media aired the launch held at a satellite center in Jiuquan.

Liu, 33, was the deputy head of a flight unit in the nation's air force, according to China's Xinhua news agency.

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She is a veteran pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience, and excelled in space testing after two years of training.

If all goes well, the Shenzhou-9 will dock with China's orbiting space laboratory, making the nation the third after the United States and Russia to complete a manned space docking.

    Participation of women in space will aid training, improve flight crew equipment and expand knowledge on the physical and psychological effects of space on women, said Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program.

    The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket as seen Saturday in northwest China's Gansu province.

    China rockets forward in race to moon

    "It will also further expand the social impact of human space missions and showcase the positive image of Chinese women," Wu said before the launch. "As a woman, I am eagerly looking forward to this flight with a female astronaut."

    China has big aspirations for its program and hopes to build a space station and conduct a manned mission to the moon.

    The orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module was launched into space in September, and two months later it successfully completed China's first space docking with an unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, according to Xinhua news agency.