China has big plans for space — including building a space station by 2020. Today the Chinese program took another historic step: they launched the country’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, into space.
As a member of a crew of three, Yang is aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft. They will be in space for 20 days and perform China’s first manned docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module (launched in September 2011). The crew live in the module and conduct experiments there.
China has had a number of historic firsts in the past decade — including its first man in space in 2003; a spacewalk in 2008; and now, simultaneously on the same mission, the manned docking and first woman in space. These milestones are the result of billions of dollars spent to create a program on par with Russia and the United States. Currently, there is talk of Chinese astronauts on the Moon by 2016.
Ms. Liu, 33-years-old, is an Air Force pilot who will head the medical experiments on the mission. She and her husband have been given plenty of press in China as the government looks to promote the event. In comparison, the Soviet Union sent the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova, back in 1963. The US matched the feat 20 years later when Sally Ride rode aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.
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