by Seyi Lawal
On Saturday, Liu Yang, 33, became China’s first woman to travel to space. While in orbit she will conduct aerospace medical experiments and other space tests. Liu’s mission made China the third country after the Soviet Union and United States to send a woman into space using its own technology.
The mission will last 13 days, during which the crew will perform experiments and the manual space docking — a highly technical procedure that brings two vessels together in high speed orbit.
Chang Wanquan, commander-in-chief of China’s manned space programme, said the craft had entered orbit, and declared the launch a “complete success”. In approval to the symbolic significance of Liu’s presence, State Councillor Liu Yandong, read a message of congratulation from President Hu Jintao at the launch site. “I would like to extend warm congratulations and sincere regards to all those participating,” said Hu, adding the docking operation would mark a “major breakthrough in the country’s manned space programme”.
The AFP reported that Shenzhou-9 — China’s fourth manned space mission — blasted off on schedule at 6:37 pm (1037 GMT) from the remote Gobi desert in the nation’s northwest, state television pictures showed.
The crew was headed by Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut who had gone to space twice already. Liu Wang, who has been in the space programme for 14 years, will be in charge of manual docking manoeuvres.
Successful completion of the rendezvous between the Shenzhou-9 (“Divine Vessel”) and the Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace”) module already in orbit will take China a step closer to setting up its own space station in 2020.
China sent its first person into space in 2003 and has since conducted several manned missions, the latest in 2008, but had never yet included a woman.