June 15, 2012 — China has said it will send its first female astronaut into space on Saturday, when the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft blasts off from the Gobi desert for the country's first ever manned space docking.
Liu Yang, a 33-year-old major in the People's Liberation Army who entered the astronaut training program just two years ago, will take part in China's fourth manned space launch, a spokeswoman for the country's space program said.
"From day one I have been told I am no different from the male astronauts," Liu, a trained fighter pilot who is married but has no children, told the state broadcaster CCTV in an interview broadcast after Friday's announcement.
"I believe in persevering. If you persevere, success lies ahead of you," added a visibly emotional Liu, who was interviewed wearing her blue astronaut's uniform.
Liu joined the astronaut training program in May 2010 and was selected as a possible candidate for Saturday's mission after she excelled in testing, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
She initially trained as a cargo pilot and has been praised for her cool handling of an incident when her jet hit a flock of pigeons but she was still able to land the heavily damaged aircraft.
She and her two male colleagues — mission commander Jing Haipeng, 45, and Liu Wang, 43 — will take off at 6.37 pm (1037 GMT) from the Jiuquan space base in north China's Gobi desert.
They will perform China's first manned space docking — a highly technical procedure that brings together two vessels in high speed orbit.