First Chinese woman set for space voyage

China will send its first woman into space Saturday along with two other astronauts to work on a temporary space station for about a week, in a key step toward becoming the only third nation to set up a permanent base in orbit.

Liu Yang, a 34-year-old air force pilot, and two male colleagues will be launched Saturday aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which will dock with the bus-sized Tiangong 1 space module now orbiting at 343 km above the Earth.

''Arranging for women astronauts to fly is not only a must for the development of human spaceflight, but also the expectation of the public,'' space program spokeswoman Wu Ping said. ''This is a landmark event.''

Two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will remain in the capsule to deal with any unexpected emergencies. Wu said the mission will last more than 10 days before the astronauts travel back to Earth in the capsule, landing on Western Chinese grasslands with the help of parachutes.

The rocket began fueling Friday at the Jiugquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China, Wu told reporters at the center. The launch is scheduled for 6.37pm Saturday, she said.

Joining Liu, a major, is veteran astronaut and mission commander Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang, both air force senior colonels.

''You could say this mission is a combination of the old and the new and coordination between the male and female,'' Wu said.


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