China first woman astronaut soars into space

Beijing: China today fired its longest and heaviest rocket, successfully sending its first woman astronaut along with two male colleagues into space to conduct the maiden manned docking of its space lab being built to rival Russia`s Mir International Space Station.

In a text-book launch, Shenzhou-9 (Divine Craft) space ship carrying the three astronauts blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province. About ten minutes later it reached its intended orbit bringing cheers all around. This is the longest and heaviest rocket China used so far, state television which telecast the event live said. The launch also highlights China`s long range missile capability.

Shenzhou-9 will dock with Tiangong-1 module currently orbiting about 343 km above the earth. This is the fourth time China conducted a manned mission into space. It is regarded as prelude to China`s plans to send a manned mission to Moon in the next few years. Liu Yang, who as an airforce pilot handled many emergencies with calm and composure got the honour to become China`s first woman astronaut and world`s 57th space woman.

Hailing from Linzhou in Central China`s Henan Province, Liu became an astronaut in 2010. Before the blast off the astronauts were given a reception by Wu Bunggo, Chairman of China`s state legislature, the People?s Congress. China conducted first manned mission in 2003 followed it up in 2005 and 2008. Experts say the design of Shenzhou rockets resembles the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Jing Haipeng, 46, will be the commander of the flight and Liu will be the manual docking operator of it. The three-member crew will carry out China`s first manned space docking mission, an important step toward building a space station by 2020. Wu Ping, spokesperson for the manned space programme, said the mission includes both a robotic docking and a manual docking between the spacecraft and the orbiting Tiangong-1.

Astronauts will get out of the spacecraft and enter the Tiangong-1 space lab module for the first time. They will stay in Tiangong-1 for about 10 days before returning to earth, she said. "With this mission, China is expected to fully test its space rendezvous and docking technologies – "the precondition for building a space station" -and check the space lab module`s ability to accommodate astronauts," she said.

The space station being built to rival Mir was expected to be ready by 2020. Participation of the first woman astronaut will help test the products and equipment that China develops for women in space, and evaluate its selection standards and training tactics for women astronauts, she said. A woman astronaut was chosen as ladies have advantages of being thoughtful, meticulous and tolerant, which will help improve the crew`s working efficiency.

"Also, it is the indispensable trend and the anticipation of the people," she said. The first woman in space was former Soviet Union cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who entered space and history in June 1963 after that Women from US, UK, France, Canada, Japan and South Korea have also been to space.

"Even though Tiangong-1 is very modest compared to the International Space Station (ISS), and even to the first Russian and US space stations, it is nonetheless a starting point for long-term Chinese expeditions in Earth orbit," space policy analyst Marcia Smith, founder and editor of spacepolicyonline.com, told news portal space.com. This is an attempt by China to build its permanent space station besides its efforts to build its Global Positioning System (GPS).

Pang Zhihao, managing editor of Space International magazine published by the China Academy of Space Technology said that many breakthroughs are set to be made in Chinese space technology during the Shenzhou-9 mission. "The mission will test the manual docking, of which the success ratio is very high because astronauts on board can make adjustments to ensure the docking is accurate and safe. Furthermore, the 13-day mission in space will fully test the functions of Tiangong-1," Pang said.