by Tony Quine
Isle of Man, UK (SPX) Jun 15, 2012
For the last five days Major Liu Yang, a 33 year old Air Force pilot, has been living with five colleagues, and a team of doctors and technical specialists, in a quarantine facility at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, waiting patiently for her provisional assignment as China first woman in space to be ratified. That should hopefully happen on Friday.
Meanwhile, back in her home town of Zhengzhou in Henan Province a media circus has developed as television and newspaper reporters seek out friends, family and colleagues, prepared to shares recollections of a woman who has described herself as an 'ordinary pilot', but who now seems certain to be destined for a place in Chinese history.
With her former school building apparently bedecked in banners of support, and pride in her achievements, so far, school friends and teachers have painted a picture of a quiet, studious teenager, who surprised everyone when she applied to join the Air Force when she was 18, in 1997.
An only child, and very loyal and supportive to her parents, she found it difficult when she was away from home continuously for four years, while studying at Aviation College and learning to fly. It was only after graduation in 2001 that she was able to return home from time to time.
Early in her flying career, in 2003, she was piloting an aircraft which suffered a multiple bird strike as it took off, Realising she was losing power in one engine, she put out a mayday call and then executed a text book emergency landing. Such calmness under pressure may have attracted the attention of the astronaut selectors, six years later.
In 2004, she married and fellow military officer and they settled in Wuhan, where she was member of an all female flight, piloting transport aircraft. She also undertook a period as a 'media' officer for her squadron. She speaks fluent English.
She was one on twenty-one female pilots whose service records were entered into the selection process for China's second astronaut group in May 2009, making it to the second round of selection in September that year, before being told that she was one of two successful candidates in March 2010.
She reported for training in May 2010, relocating to the Astronaut Training Centre in Beijing, where she was joined by her husband in October that year.
Nothing has been released about her training or assignment to the pool of astronauts for the Shenzhou 9 mission, although doubtless these gaps will be filled in the coming days and weeks.
In fact, it was only the publication, last Monday, of a series of photographs showing Liu, her female colleague Captain Wang Yaping, and four male astronauts, performing pre-flight rituals, that confirmed her long rumoured
status, to people outside her immediate family.
Major Liu's own parents, and husband, have not been accessible to Chinese media, but her parents did pass a message to reporters, through her uncle, "This is a time of great honour for our family, but we are also very worried about the next few days, so please respect our privacy"
Liu's mother in law also gave some interesting insight into her changing career priorities. "In 2009, she and my son were preparing to have a child, but she was invited to take part in the astronaut selection programme, and the unique opportunity meant they changed their plans. Since then, her priority has been this mission, but I know her parents want a grandchild, so I hope once she returns, she will grant them this wish."
She also spoke about her last conversation with her daughter-in-law, last Saturday, as Major Liu prepared to fly to the launch centre. "Mom, do not be too worried about me. I am not worried, everything will be fine. I'll see you all soon"
Tony Quine is a long time observer of the Russian and Chinese manned space programmes and a regular author and contributor to both online and published media.
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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