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First Chinese Woman Astronaut Goes Into Space

  • RFE/RL

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (center), Liu Wang (right), and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave to the media during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu Province, on June 15.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (center), Liu Wang (right), and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave to the media during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu Province, on June 15.

China has launched a rocket carrying its first woman into space along with two fellow male astronauts.

Female astronaut Liu Yang and her fellow crew members blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in a barren region of the Gobi Desert in the country's northwest.

China is just the third country to put its own woman into space.

Chang Wanquan, commander in chief of China's manned space program, said the craft had entered orbit, and declared the launch a "complete success."

The astronauts will now dock their Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with a space module launched in September 2011. The manual docking exercise is seen as a key step in China's plans to build a space station.

China achieved a similar docking in November 2011, but that mission was unmanned and the procedure was conducted remotely from Earth.

The astronauts will remain in orbit for about a week. Two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will remain in the capsule.

In a nod to the symbolic significance of sending a woman into space for the first time, one of China's most senior female leaders, State Councilor Liu Yandong, read a message of congratulation from President Hu Jintao from the launch site.

"I would like to extend warm congratulations and sincere regards to all those participating," Hu said, adding the docking operation would mark a "major breakthrough in the country's manned space program."

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China aims to have a fully-fledged space station by about 2020. Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program, told reporters he was confident that a successful docking would put his country on target to reach that goal.

"I believe that we can achieve this goal, because we already have the basic technological capability," Zhou said. "Of course we still have a great deal of work to do in research and development of space."

2020 is the year the international space station is due to retire.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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