One of two female fighter pilots will become the first Chinese woman in space later this month, after the two were short-listed for a place in the three-person team that will blast off in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, the state news agency Xinhua said.
Chinese media described Major Liu Yang, from Henan, as a “hero pilot” who achieved a successful emergency landing after a dramatic bird-strike incident spattered the windshield of her plane with blood.
Meanwhile, her rival, Captain Wang Yaping, from Shandong, is said to have flown rescue missions during the Sichuan earthquake and piloted a cloud-seeding plane to help clear the skies of rain for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“They are selected as members of the first batch of female astronauts in China because of their excellent flight skills and psychological quality,” said Xinhua.
This month's mission is regarded as an important stage in China's ambitious space programme. “The Shenzhou-9 will perform our country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module,” Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program, told state media. “This will be a significant step in China's manned space flight history,” he said.
China will be the eighth country to see one of its female citizens go into space, and only the third to put one there itself. Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman to go into space in 1963.
Both the women short-listed are in their 30s and have one child: Chinese authorities have decreed that only mothers can train as astronauts, apparently because of their concern that spaceflight might affect women's fertility. Earlier this year, the deputy editor-in-chief of an official magazine said women astronauts should also have no scars — which might open and bleed in space — nor body odour.
“They even must not have decayed teeth because any small flaw might cause great trouble or a disaster in space,” said Pan Zhihao of Space International, published by the China Academy of Space Technology.
But he also told China Daily that female astronauts tend to be more “keen and sensitive with better communication skills than their male counterparts.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012