by Tony Quine
London, UK (SPX) May 18, 2012
China will definitely launch a female air force pilot into space, onboard the ambitious Shenzhou 9 rendezvous and docking mission, likely to launch in mid-June, according to a senior space programme official.
Speaking at a ceremony, to mark the departure of the Long March 2F booster to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, Chinese Academy of Launch Technology, Commander in Chief, Liu Yu, commented that the rocket would be used to launch China's first woman into space, along with two male colleagues.
The announcement was not entirely unexpected. In late 2011, Chinese officials had hinted that a woman might be included in the crew of the planned Shenzhou 10 mission, in 2013. Then, in March, Qi Faren, the former Chief Designer of Shenzhou, implied that the female crew assignment could be brought forward to Shenzhou 9, depending on examination results.
China is known to have only two female taikonauts, and although they have never been named officially, their identities have been circulating on Chinese and English language websites, for many months.
Either Major Wang Yaping, 32, from Yantai, Shandong Province, or Major Liu Yang, 33, from Zhengzhou, Henan Province will be selected for the mission. Both women are married, and are career pilots in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, which they both joined direct from high school, in 1997. They were drafted for spaceflight training, in early 2010, from a pool of just 15 potential female candidates.
So far, there has been no official indication of the identity of any of the Shenzhou 9 prime, or back-up, crew members.
Chinese officials have previously said that, the final crew for Shenzhou 9 would not be selected until the final hours before launch.
Shenzhou 9 is scheduled to rendezvous, and complete a manual docking, with the orbiting Tiangong 1 module, and will stay in orbit for 13 days. It will be China's most complex, and longest, spaceflight, more than doubling their current endurance record.
China at Encyclopedia Astronautica
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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