Finally, a decision! After what seemed like a lot of waffling and delays, China’s space program has finally announced the name of their first female taikonaut: fighter pilot Liu Yang! Beating out Captain Wang Yaping, the 33-year-old captain will board the Shenzhou 9 this weekend and make Chinese history. Not bad for a girl from a working-class background who is known for her “nerves of steel”!
Major Liu Yang will join her fellow taikonauts Liu Wang and commander Jing Haipeng when the Shenzhou 9 takes off Saturday evening. While it had seemed like the Chinese media was less than enthusiastic about celebrating its first woman in space, it turns out that they were really treating her the same as her fellow male astronauts; crews are never announced until the last minute. And in fact, they were excited about making history and celebrated the prospect of a female taikonaut in the media.
And now, Liu is the pride of her hometown of Henan, heavily populated and not-at-all wealthy. She told the press that she “yearns to experience the wondrous, weightless environment of space, see the Earth and gaze upon the motherland.” But she also had a few words for everyone in her country who supported her quest:
“Thank you for the confidence put in my by the motherland and the people, for giving me this chance to represent China’s millions of women by going into space.”
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that Liu met with a whole lot of opposition to her involvement, though some wondered what purpose the space program even served when people in China were suffering the effects of poverty and hunger. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive. When word of her addition to the team hit, social media went crazy; one user called her the “pride of Henan.”
The Shenzhou 9 is part of China’s plan to build its own space lab, the Tiangong 1. When it docks with the module that is currently in space, it will spend 10 days undergoing a sort of “dress rehearsal” to practice both manually docking and docking via remote control.
Congratulations, Liu Yang!
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