Launch sends first Chinese female astronaut to space
THE famous Chinese maxim has it that women hold up half the sky. Thanks to Liu Yang, they have now soared past it.
Yesterday, a Shenzhou-9 spacecraft blasted off from its Gobi desert launch site carrying the first Chinese woman into 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," Ms Liu told reporters beforehand.
Speaking alongside her two male colleagues, she said: "Men and women have their own advantages and capabilities in carrying out space missions. They can complement each other and better complete their mission."
The launch is the latest step in China's programme to build its own space station. American objections prevented it from participating in the international space station.
Shenzhou-9 will perform China's first staffed docking mission with an orbiting space laboratory module. Two astronauts will live and work inside the Tiangong-1 to test its life-support systems, while the third will remain in the Shenzhou-9 capsule.
Space programme spokeswoman Wu Ping said: "Generally speaking, female astronauts have better durability, psychological stability and ability to deal with loneliness."
Ms Liu's selection for the mission caused a surge of pride in her impoverished home province of Henan. The 33-year-old's childhood ambition was reportedly to become a bus conductor. But instead she joined the air force. She began training as an astronaut only two years ago, giving her much less experience than her colleagues.
Ms Liu will carry out medical experiments while one of her colleagues will handle docking manoeuvres.
The first woman in space was the Soviet Union's Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.