Business, Economics and Jobs

China names 2 women shortlisted for Shenzhou-9 space mission


A photo taken June 9, 2012 shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its carrier rocket been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China's Gansu province.

China has named the two female pilots vying to become the first Chinese woman in space on the official shortlist for the Shenzhou-9 mission, which may blast off this weekend.

Chinese media as describing Major Liu Yang, 33, from Henan Province, as a ''hero pilot'' who made an emergency landing after a birdstrike on her plane, said a report in Australia's Fairfax media.

And Captain Wang Yaping, 32, from Shandong Province, flew rescue missions during the Sichuan earthquake, plus piloted a cloud-seeding plane to help clear the skies during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Chinese officials have said that the final crew for Shenzhou-9 would not be chosen until the final hours before launch.

More from GlobalPost: Shenzhou-9: China to make manned space flight mid-June

Although China's two female would-be "taikonauts" have never been named officially, their identities have been circulating on Chinese and English language websites, for months, according to Space Daily.

However, the People's Daily made a brief announcement about the two women and published their photographs yesterday, the BBC reported.

According to Space Daily, both women were career pilots in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, which they joined direct from high school, and both were married.

While they have been described as "fighter pilots," Zhang Jianqi, former deputy commander of China's manned space program, was reportedly quoted as saying that both were from the "transport aviation troop" — which the BBC called the "Wuhan Aviation Troop."

The excitement was more palpable elsewhere online, with Liu and Want ranking as the second-most talked about topic on the Sina Weibo microblogging site, China's answer to Twitter, the BBC wrote.

And more than 76,000 people adding comments to a story on the Netease website, one of which read: "Finally, we are going to have our first female astronaut. They are the heroines of today. It means Chinese women have occupied another place in history." 

China National Radio News and Phoenix network described the women as "outstanding pilots with super-strong mental qualities who have passed a rigorous selection procedure."

Shenzhou-9 is scheduled to dock with the orbiting Tiangong 1 module and will stay in orbit for 13 days in what will be China's most complex, and longest, space flight.

Fairfax cited the chief designer of the manned space program, Zhou Jianping, as describing the importance of the Shenzhou-9 mission: 

''The Shenzhou-9 will perform our country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module,'' he told state media.

''It means China's spacecraft will become a genuine manned shuttle tool between space and Earth. It can send human beings to space stations or space labs.''