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Identity Of Final Group Of Three Yuhangyuans Revealed

Yang Liwei who is expected to be China's first yuhangyuan (astronaut) trains at Gagarin Cosmonautics Center several years ago.
by Hou Yi
Hong Kong - Oct 14, 2003
Wen Wei Po today (Oct. 14) reveals the identity of the final group of three yuhangyuans on the eve of the launch of the historic Chinese space mission.

The newspaper reports on its front page that currently Yang Liwei is the leading candidate among the three yuhangyuans. Second in ranking is Zhai Zhigang while the third candidate is Nie Haisheng. All three candidates have the same superior level of technical skills, and are at their best physical and psychological conditions.

Chinese space officials will conduct one final psychological test tonight to decide which candidate would win the precious seat to pilot Shenzhou-5 (SZ-5).

Sources told the newspaper that the second place Zhai had performed even better than Yang in several psychological tests. But the 38-year-old Yang has shown "consistently a stable psychological condition".

These sources said that the final selection could come down to the last competition between Yang and Zhai, both of whom are from the northeastern part of China.

The lone southerner in the final group of three is Nie.

Reportedly all three candidates speak fairly standard putonghua (mandarin), but with an ever slight regional accent.

Although the competition is fierce, all three candidates have very good relations among them according to the sources.

Ta Kung Pao, another newspaper here, reports that space officials will proceed to fuel the Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) rocket. The process of fuelling the launcher will take seven hours.

Unnamed officials told Ta Kung Pao that the final decision on the SZ-5 pilot should be made about two and a half hours before launch.

According to People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily, Yang Liwei was born on June 21, 1965 in Suizhong County in Liaoning Province. He has an older sister and a younger brother.

In 1983 he became an Air Force pilot. Ten years later in 1993 he passed the acceptance test to become a yuhangyuan.

When Yang was completing his secondary education at the Suizhong County No. 2 Secondary School, the Armed Forces often went to Suizhong County, which is near the western provincial border, to search for pilot candidates.

Yang and several of his schoolmates were selected to undergo further physical and medical tests, first through the hospital of the unit in Jinzhou City, then through the final testing at the hospital of the unit in the provincial capital Shenyang.

Only Yang and one other schoolmate made it into the Air Force. They both became local celebrities at the young age.

According to Yang's sister, his physical conditions were fit when he was a youngster and quite rarely did he fall ill. Yang liked sports activities, such as swimming, skating, and, in general, enjoyed playing at outdoor. When Yang joined the track and field team, he often came first in competitions.

Yang had an average academic record, but he excelled in science and technology subjects.

His sister said that after he entered the Air Force, he insisted on keeping up with learning. Every time when Yang returned home for a visit, he would use her computer to acquire new knowledge and, particularly, explore the inner workings of various electrical and electronics devices.

Through his mother, Yang met and fell in love with Zhang Yumei, a girl from the same county. The two got married in the winter of 1990. Zhang followed her husband to Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, then to Sichuan Province.

After becoming a yuhangyuan in 1993, Yang and his wife moved to the Beijing Aerospace City to start his rigorous training in the secluded area nicknamed "Red Chamber".

The yuhangyuan training program imposed strict rules that only once every four year a yuhangyuan would have about two weeks of vacation to return to his native area to visit family members and friends.

But every year Yang's parents would travel to Beijing to visit their son. On weekends when Yang did not have training, he would return to his residence in Beijing to spend time with his wife and son.

His wife also works at the Aerospace City. His son attends school in Beijing and gets there daily on special buses from the space compound.

When the family members of Yang realized that he became a yuhangyuan, they never asked him details of his work and only knew that it had something to do with training. But they had all seen photos of Yang in a spacesuit.

Whenever Yang was not in training and returned to his residence, he rarely went out or contacted outsiders to minimize accidental exposure of his identity and the nature of his career.

Since the Chinese New Year of 2001 when Yang returned home to Liaoning Province, he had not seen his brother and sister again.

Yang's father was a senior economist with a non-staple food company in Suizhong County. His mother was a schoolteacher. Both are in their 70s, and living with their other son and daughter in the city of Huludao.

According to Wen Wei Po, Huludao is where the Chinese Armed Forces build their nuclear submarines.

The senior Yang and his wife have been in the Yang residence in Beijing for about two weeks. They brought along family photos of Yang and forwarded them to the appropriate department, presumably for publicity purposes.

The siblings of Yang stay at home in Huludao waiting the possible moment of witnessing their brother makes history.

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