Meet China's First Female Astronaut: Big Pic

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Xinhua Press/Corbis

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.

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"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.

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They will perform China's first manned space docking — a highly technical procedure that brings together two vessels in high speed orbit.

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