China’s young manned space program takes a new step today, when the country sends its first woman into space. Liu Yang is a highly skilled fighter pilot, described as having a “cool head”. I don’t know, her head looks pretty normal to me. She’s one of a three member team scheduled to lift off aboard the Shenzhou-9, accompanied by Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang.
Chinese media featured glowing reports about Liu’s prowess, noting she’s a Chinese air force major and a military pilot with a cool head. According to China Daily, in 2003, birds struck the engine of a plane Liu was piloting. She lost the right engine but stabilized the aircraft and made a safe emergency landing. Watch out, Sully.
Liu was recruited in 2010 to join the taikonaut corps. A spokeswoman for China’s space program remarked “Generally speaking, female astronauts have better durability, psychological stability and ability to deal with loneliness,” according to Xinhua, which ranked her with Sally Ride, the first U.S. female astronaut, and Russian Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
Her crew’s mission is also historic: the Shenzhou-9 will dock with an experimental space module, the first time China has conducted a manual space docking. This is another step on China’s deliberate path toward building a space station by 2020, and plans for a trip to the moon, according to Space.com.