China’s first female astronaut

Liu Yang made history when she became the first female Chinese astronaut to visit outer space last week. Now the BBC has a profile of the woman behind the headlines. According to them, the 33-year-old pilot has only been in China’s space program for two years:

“State TV, which has aired documentaries about her, says she trained to fly transport planes and was cool under pressure after a multiple bird strike disabled one engine on her plane.

Hailing from the central province of Henan, she is also described as an eloquent speaker, an avid reader and a lover of cooking.

Ms Liu first joined the army in 1997 and has flown 1,680 flying hours since then. On China’s Tencent QQ messaging service, she goes by the name ‘little Flying Knight’.”

Liu was part of a mission that saw China successfully achieve its first manned space flight, when the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft docked with China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory on Monday. The Wall Street Journal had more details:

“China’s political leadership has heavily promoted the mission as proof of the country’s growing clout.

Additionally, the Shenzhou-9 mission reinforced China’s long-term aspirations for a manned space presence just as the U.S. has significantly drawn down its own manned space program and retired its aging fleet of space shuttles.

The Shenzhou-9 mission is the first time China has sent a person into space since 2008. It follows China’s first unmanned space docking in November and is the latest step in a 30-year plan to assemble a space station by about 2020, part of an effort known as Project 921 …

Washington’s decision to end the shuttle program left Russia with a virtual monopoly over manned spaceflight. China’s space program, while decades behind the achievements of the U.S. and Russia, has made steady progress in recent years.”

The New York Times adds that China hopes to be on the moon by 2016. Though this mission is a relatively simple one, the long-term implications are important:

“The crew is expected to spend up to 20 days in space and dock with the orbiting Tiangong 1 space lab module, a kind of miniature space station, which China launched in September 2011. The crew will conduct experiments and live for a time in the space module.

China has spent billions in the past decade to build a space program to compete with the United States and Russia, and it plans to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon, perhaps by 2016.

The country sent its first man into space in 2003, and a Chinese astronaut did a spacewalk in 2008. The manned docking would be considered a milestone for China’s space program and the third major step in developing a space program. China completed a docking by remote control in November when the Shenzhou 8 capsule coupled with the Tiangong 1 orbital module, an event that was broadcast live on national television and observed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao from the control center in Beijing.”

With other space programs, most notable America’s NASA, lagging behind, some experts have predicted that by 2020, China could be the world’s new major space player.

What do you think? Is owning the next frontier critical for emerging powers?

Read more on China, France, America and the world beyond in the latest edition of Carnet Atlantique!

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