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Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut

Updated: 2012-06-15 20:33

JIUQUAN - An eloquent speaker and a lover of cooking, Liu Yang is well-poised to be the first Chinese woman in space.

When she watched the news on television of China's first manned space mission in 2003, the pilot couldn't help but wonder: What would the Earth look like from outer space?

Nine years later, Liu is getting the opportunity to find out herself as China's first female astronaut, taking her place among three Chinese chosen to crew the Shenzhou IX manned spacecraft.

Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut

China's first female astronaut Liu Yang salutes during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, June 15, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

The 33-year-old will be in charge of medical experiments during the mission, which will also feature China's first attempt at a manual space docking procedure.

"I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens," Liu said at a Friday press conference.

"I have full confidence," Liu said before the mission. "There are many foreign female astronauts who have been into space. Men and women have their own advantages and capabilities in carrying out space missions. They can complement each other and better complete their mission."

The native of central China's Henan province started looking toward the skies just after high school, when one of her teachers convinced her to enroll in an aviation school.

Joining the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force in 1997, Liu became a veteran pilot after flying safely for 1,680 hours. She was promoted to deputy head of a PLA flight unit before being recruited as a prospective astronauts in May 2010. She is now an Air Force major.

After two years of training, which shored up her astronautic skills and adaptability to the space environment, Liu excelled in testing and was selected in March this year to crew the Shenzhou IX.

"When I was a pilot, I flew in the sky. Now that I am an astronaut, I will fly in space. This will be a much higher and farther flight," Liu said.

Liu has been described by her colleagues as being outgoing, eloquent and well-versed.

Since joining the military, she has received accolades for her public speaking, winning first place in a military speech contest in 2010.

She has also impressed others as a quick learner. After becoming a prospective astronaut in 2010, she devoted the first year to basic academic and physical training, only starting to train in aerospace and astronautics a year ago. Before the start of the Shenzhou IX mission, she had finished all scheduled training courses.

"Despite starting her training late, she is now on the same page as us, which exceeded our expectations," said Jing Haipeng, commander of upcoming mission.

Jing was also impressed by the swiftness and decisiveness Liu has displayed during training sessions, citing the calm manner she displays in dealing with simulated emergencies.

However, the difficulty and intensity of her training has not deprived her of life's pleasures. Liu loves reading, particularly novels, essays and history books. She is also a proficient cook.

"I love children and I love life," said Liu, who lives in Beijing with her husband. "To be with my family is one kind of happiness, but to fly  is another kind that people cannot typically experience."

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