As a child Liu Yang dreamt of being a bus driver so she could ride the bus every day. Decades later she was travelling among the stars and becoming the first woman astronaut from China.
Born in Zhengzhou, China, in 1978, Liu first began reaching for the sky after high school, attending the Changchun No. 1 Flight College. After graduating in 1997 she joined the army and became a pilot of cargo planes. She earned the rank of major and deputy head of a flight unit.
With 1,680 flying hours under her belt Liu was recruited as a prospective astronaut in May 2010. After two years of intense astronautic training, she excelled in a rigorous selection process and became one of the three crew members of the Shenzhou 9 mission.
Speaking about the preparation she underwent in China’s astronaut training program, Liu said: “From day one I was told I am no different from the male astronauts”.
The key to her success? “I believe in persevering. If you persevere, success lies ahead of you.”
The 16th of June of 2012 Liu Yang became China’s first woman astronaut to reach space, helping China accomplish its first-ever manned space docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space laboratory module, an important step toward building a space station by 2020.
Before take-off Liu told reporters: “I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honoured to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens.”
Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China’s manned space program invoked a famous line from Mao Zedong and said, “Women hold up half the sky. Human space missions without women are incomplete.”
“ I believe in persevering.
If you persevere,
success lies ahead of you.”
Liu Yang is the third woman in the world to go into space, following in the footsteps of first female Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and American first woman astronaut Sally Ride in 1983.
During China’s first national “Space Day” on April 24 this year, Liu Yang said that women have unique advantages in working in space. “Women’s inherent patience, sensitivity and sympathy mean they are more likely to avoid conflicts, especially in cramped conditions of most spacecraft,” she said.
The government designated April 24, the anniversary of the country’s first satellite launch 46 years ago, as “Space Day” to celebrate the country’s achievements in aerospace. It was also the occasion for China this year to announce its ambition to launch its Mars mission probe around 2020, aiming to reach the planet when the Communist Party of China marks its centenary in 2021.
“Women will play a more important role when spending a long time in space,” Liu said. However, “space will never favor you just because you are a woman,” she said. “Thus there’s no difference between men and women in the training process.”
Alia Chebbab @AliaChebbab