China Launches Its First Female Astronaut

This morning China launched its first female astronaut into space.

Last week we reported that one of the astronauts launched today would likely be a woman; today, CNN reports that the Chinese have indeed launched Yiu Lang and two male colleagues into space aboard the Shenzhou-9 rocket. The mission is, according to USA Today, China’s “most ambitious space mission yet.”

The mission, an attempt to dock with a space lab launched by the Chinese last year, is historic for the Chinese in more ways than one. If it is successful, the Chinese will be the third nation to successfully complete a manned space docking, after the U.S.S.R. and the United States. China successfully completed an unmanned docking with the Shenzhou-8 in November 2011. For the Chinese space program, this mission is one more step towards their goals of launching a space station and, hopefully, a manned moon landing.

As the first Chinese woman to be launched into space, Yiu Lang follows in the footsteps of Russian Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. In fact, Yiu Lang’s launch today is also the 49th anniversary of Tereshkova’s 1963 launch. Yiu Lang is the fifty-ninth woman to be launched into space overall. No female moon landings so far, but perhaps the Chinese can claim that title if all goes well with their space program.

According to Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for the Chinese manned space program, Yiu Lang’s mission will “further…expand the social impact of human space missions and showcase the positive image of Chinese women,” and that “as a woman, I am eagerly looking forward to this flight with a female astronaut.”