|China sends its first female to space|
JIUQUAN, June 16 (Xinhua) -- She is a wife. She belongs to China's one-child generation. On Saturday, 33-year-old Liu Yang becomes the country's first woman entering space.
The home-grown Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, atop an upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 6:37 p.m. Saturday, carrying Liu and her two crew mates.
China is the third country in the world to use its own technologies to send a female into space.
Shenzhou-9 will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. China's first manual space docking procedure is expected to be completed during the 13-day mission.
President Hu Jintao on Saturday congratulated the successful launch of the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft.
"I feel very glad to hear the success of launching the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft and I would like to extend warm congratulations and sincere regards to all those participating in the research and tests (of the country's space program)," Hu said in a congratulatory letter sent from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he is paying a state visit.
Born in Henan Province, a birthplace of mainstream Chinese civilizations, Liu is now a People's Liberation Army (PLA) major as well as a member of the Communist Party of China.
Once a PLA Air Force pilot, she dreamed of watching Earth from space. Liu said, "After being trained as an astronaut, I have found there is still a very long distance from sky to space. A human being is so minute in space."
Women had long occupied a low social status in China's feudal past. As late as more than 100 years ago, women in Liu's hometown traditionally had to bind their feet to please men and share their polygamous husbands with other women.
Since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, women have "held up half the sky."
"I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of Chinese females," Liu told the press Friday afternoon.
She is mandated to conduct medical experiments and other space tests during the mission.
Liu has been described by her two crew mates as being "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 now on the same page with us, which exceeds our expectations," Jing Haipeng, commanding officer of the Shenzhou-9 mission, said.
Jing was also impressed by swiftness and decisiveness Liu displayed during training sessions, citing her calm manner in responding to simulated emergencies.
However, the difficulty and intensity of her training did not deprive her of life pleasures. Liu loves reading novels, essays and history books. She is a proficient cook and a good homemaker. Each lamp at her home was meticulously selected by Liu and her husband.
Liu's husband serves the PLA Air Force. Liu shed tears while mentioning his all-out support for her astronautic career.
She and her husband longed for having a child, but "it has to be planned after the manned space docking mission," she said.
"Space exploration activities would be incomplete without participation of female astronauts," Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Research and Training Center of China, said.
To date, more than 50 women have traveled into space. Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963.
Space accidents, however, killed 21 astronauts, including four women.
Australian space analyst Morris Jones told Xinhua that the Shenzhou-9 mission was another big step for China and the world. "We need to see more women in space across the entire world's space programs. It also boosts public interest in spaceflight."
Science fiction writer Ling Chen said to Xinhua that she wished a Chinese woman be the first female to set foot on the moon and the first to give birth in space.