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China's first female astronaut blasts off today
Publication Date : 16-06-2012
China is going to extremes this weekend, breaking new ground in space with its first female astronaut, while sending a submersible to record depths in the ocean.
The country on Friday announced its first female astronaut, who will join the country's first manned space docking mission on Saturday.
Also on Friday, the deep-sea submersible Jiaolong reached a record of 6,671 metres.
Astronaut Liu Yang, one of China's two female reserve astronauts and a former air force pilot, is scheduled to become the country's first woman in space on Saturday.
Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut who was on the three-day Shenzhou VII mission in 2008, and Liu Wang, a new face to the public but a research astronaut for 14 years, will join in the Shenzhou IX spacecraft, which is scheduled to lift off at 6:37 pm on Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China's Gansu province.
The three-member crew will carry out the country's first manned space docking mission, an important step toward building a space station by 2020.
Wu Ping, spokesperson for the manned space program, said at the launch center on Friday that the mission includes both a robotic docking and a manual docking between the spacecraft and the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module.
Astronauts will get out of the spacecraft and enter the Tiangong-1 space lab module for the first time.
They will live in Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, for about 10 days, she said.
With this mission, China is expected to fully test its space rendezvous and docking technologies — "the precondition for building a space station" —and check the space lab module's ability to accommodate astronauts, she said.
Meanwhile, 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, she said.
When asked why China will send women into space, she said women astronauts have advantages of being thoughtful, meticulous and tolerant, which will help improve the crew's working efficiency.
"Also, it is the indispensable trend and the anticipation of the people," she added.
So far, more than 50 women around the world have been in space.
The first woman in space was former Soviet Union cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who entered space and history in June 1963. Women from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan and South Korea have also been to space.
Liu Yang, born in 1978, joined the air force in 1997. As a military pilot, she flew 1,680 hours safely before being selected to become one of the country's two female reserve astronauts in 2010.
Jing Haipeng, 46, will be the commander, and Liu Wang, 43, will be the manual docking operator.
On Friday afternoon, the crew appeared at a fully quarantined facility in their apartment compound and were introduced by Chen Shanguang, head designer of the astronaut system.
Dressed in blue garments, the three faced the media with great confidence.
Jing, who will become China's first astronaut to re-enter space, told reporters that the confidence comes from the abundant training they have done.
"Now, with just eye contact, a look on the face, or a move, we can understand each other," he said.
The mission entered countdown on Friday, as technicians started to inject propellant into the Long March 2F carrier rocket in the afternoon.
Also on Friday, the three crew members of China's deep-sea submersible Jiaolong, or River Dragon, stepped aboard the mother ship — only to be welcomed with a bucket of water dumped over each of their heads.
The unorthodox welcome was the crew's way of celebrating its safe return after setting a national record for a manned deep-sea dive.
Ye Cong, Cui Weicheng and Yang Bo steered Jiaolong 6,671 metres into the Mariana Trench, far surpassing the 5,188-metre record it set in July.
"It is really an unexpectedly good result," said Liu Feng, the on-scene commander of the mission.
The dive is the first of six scheduled to achieve the country's first 7,000-metre dive.
Jiaolong will try another five dives in the coming days, aiming to move deeper and deeper toward the 7,000-metre target.
The six dives, each of which may last eight to 12 hours, will test various functions and performances of the manned submersible at great depths.
"I have great confidence that this time Jiaolong can reach a depth of 7,000 metres," Xu Qinan, the chief designer of Jiaolong, told China Daily on Friday. - Xinhua contributed to this story.