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Philatelic Cover Reveals the secret names of second Taikonaut team
by Tony Quine
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Dec 08, 2011

Two members of the second corps of Taikonauts includes Liu Yang (left) and Wang Yaping (right). The stamp cover image is courtsey of Spaceflori.

"The names of the seven military pilots selected in 2010 to form China's second group of taikonauts, which have been a closely guarded secret for the last 18 months, appear to have been released to the space community, due to a possible philatelic blunder.

A European space collectibles website has been offering a postal cover, apparently signed by the five men and two women who make up the group, for sale, for several weeks. However, it has only just been noted by researchers, Tony Quine and Igor Lissov, with an interest in the Chinese programme, who immediately recognised its significance.

The cover is dated 10th May 2010 which is the date which the Chinese have previously mentioned as the official date that the second taikonaut group were appointed to the Chinese Astronaut Team.

The two female taikonauts are identified as Major Liu Yang and Captain Wang Yaping who are both 33 years old. Their military ranks were noted in earlier Chinese media reports on their aviation exploits and careers.

Major Liu and Captain Wang are known to be members of the same 'generation' of Peoples Liberation Army Air Force female pilots, both having joined the Air Force directly from school in 1997.

Both were recruited from transport squadrons where they have gained around 1100 hours of flying experience, on slow and aging turbo-prop aircraft, such as the Xian K-7 freighter.

Now one of them will soon be taking the rather more exhilarating, not to mention risky, ride on a Long March CZ-2F/G rocket!

Captain Wang was the only member of the group previously identified, and exclusively revealed as a taikonaut by the current authors in November 2010, when sources close to the Chinese programme had confirmed her inclusion in the second group. Chinese media outlets have since reported her selection also, but only in the last couple of months.

The names of the five men selected were recorded in the note accompanying the postal cover as Zhang Hu, Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe, Tang Hongbo and Yi Guangfu.

It is possible that these names have been read from the handwritten signatures on the envelope, although Chinese space forum sources have helped to verify and clarify these names as far as possible, from interpretation of the signatures. All five are fighter pilots who were aged between 30 and 35, when selected.

The Chinese have already announced plans to fly two Shenzhou missions to their orbiting Tiangong 1 module during 2012, and although they are being a little cautious in announcing precise details, both are likely to be manned flights.

These five men though, are not involved in preparations for these Shenzhou 9 and 10 missions, suggesting that they will have to wait until at least the Tiangong 2 series of missions scheduled no earlier than 2013 to reach orbit.

However, as reported from China during the Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8 missions, the two women, Wang and Liu, are on an accelerated training path and are already undertaking mission specific training for a flight on either Shenzhou 9 or 10. So, we can now be confident that, barring some unforeseen training or technical hitch, either Wang or Liu will become the first Chinese woman in space, within the next year."


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