All eyes on China as the country prepares to launch three astronauts, including a mother of one who flies transport planes, to live and work on a space station for about a week.
It’s a major step in China’s goal of becoming only the third nation with a permanent base orbiting Earth.
Liu Yang, a 34-year-old, the country’s first female astronaut in space, and two male colleagues Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, will be launched Saturday in the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft that will dock with the bus-sized Tiangong 1 space module now orbiting 200 miles above the Earth.
Echoing a famous Chinese proverb, Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China’s manned space program said, “Women hold up half the sky. Human space missions without women are incomplete.”
In another milestone, Jing will be China’s first astronaut to travel twice into space, Xinhua reported. Like his other two crew members, Jing is a former pilot of the People’s Liberation Army and a member of the Communist Party of China, according to Xinhua.
If all goes well, the Shenzhou-9 will dock with China’s orbiting space laboratory, making the nation the third after the United States and Russia to complete a manned space docking.
China has big aspirations for its program and hopes to build a space station and conduct a manned mission to the moon.
The orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module was launched into space in September, and two months later it successfully completed China’s first space docking with an unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, according to Xinhua news agency.
China’s efforts come as the United States refocuses its space program toward deep-space exploration, and private companies such as SpaceX make strides toward the commercialization of space flight.