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China to select woman astronaut next year
Updated: 2004-03-12 13:05

China plans to recruit woman astronauts for its space voyage later next year, and they are expected to be selected from among the women around the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong and Macao special administration regions, a senior space official said here Friday.

Hu Shixiang, deputy chief commander of China's Manned Space Program, said the selection will not be confined to the ranks of woman pilots.

China's rocket and spaceship technology has become mature following successful spaceflights of its five spaceships since 1999, which lowered the physical requirements for astronauts, said Hu.

"Healthy common people can become astronauts for space missions after specialized training thanks to China's improved space training skills and, women, of course, will be included."

"Our selection of woman astronauts will not merely be a symbolic, image project," referring to the appeals by a woman group for including women to prove sex equality, said Hu.

As part of the crew, woman astronauts may conduct scientific experiments aboard the ship, he said.

The first group of woman astronauts will not only undertake three to four years of physical and space flight training, said the official, but also training in knowledge and expertise for space-based scientific experiments.

Chinese woman astronauts then will travel to space aboard home-made ships when the time is mature, said Hu, but giving no specific schedule.

He said the meticulosity innate to women is helpful for smooth progress of space-based experiments, and their space experience and test results, both physical and mental, will be crucial for research as they are essential for humankind to have better understanding of space and even for future human migration to space.

Hu, a deputy to the national legislature, acknowledged that China's first group of astronauts, all male, were selected from the air force of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), including Yang Liwei, who became China's first astronaut orbiting the earth in October of 2003 aboard the home-made spaceship.

Gu Xiulian, chairman of the All-China Women's Federation, Saturday told a gathering that she had raised the proposal that women astronauts be trained for space missions after the country's maiden manned space trip last October, and it has been accepted by central authorities, Beijing Youth Daily reported.

A senior woman official with the Beijing-based Space Medical Engineering Institute, who was in charge of training astronauts, said that spaceship designers will have to make minor changes to the facilities inside the ship so as to help accommodate woman astronauts.

China joined Russia and the United States in the elite club of manned spaceflight last October as the home-made Shenzhou-5 spacecraft, piloted by Yang Liwei, a former fighter pilot of the PLA air force, orbited the Earth 14 times and returned safely.

The Women's liberation movement in China was given a big boost after the founding of new China in 1949, and late Chairman Mao Zedong lauded the Chinese women as being fully capable of "holding up half the skies" and all spheres of professional work were then open to men and women alike in the country.

Since China began to recruit woman pilots in 1951, hundreds of well-trained women pilots joined the country's civil aviation and air forces. Yue Cuixi, 55, the country's first woman air force pilot, received a military rank as a major general in 2003. As a pilot with 36 years of experience, she served as deputy chief of staff of the PLA air fore of the Guangzhou Military Area Command.

Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the prestigious first woman astronaut in the world as she was rocketed into space on June 16, 1963 aboard Vostok 6.

Sally K. Ride became the first American woman astronaut to fly aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

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