March 11, 2010

China Selects First Female Astronauts

Two Chinese women have been selected as part of a seven-person interstellar crew, marking the first time in China's history that females will participate in the nation's growing space program.

The unnamed women, both of whom have been identified as aero-transport pilots from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, will join five men in China's second-generation of astronauts, according to Zhang Jianqi, the former deputy commander of the China National Space Administration.

"In the selection, we had almost the same requirements on women candidates as those for men," Zhang told Xinhua news agency on March 10. "But the only difference was that they must be married, as we believe married women would be more physically and psychologically mature."

The selection of the seven astronauts was not the only news announced regarding the future of China's space program on Wednesday. Xinhua also reported that China plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft, the Tiangong-1, during the first half of 2011, and also plans to undertake their first space docking mission later in the year.

Two additional spaceships are expected to take flight and dock with Tiangong-1 sometime in 2012, and a third unmanned moon probe will launch in 2013. Space program officials also told AFP that they would like to put a man on the moon by 2020.

After selecting its initial crew of 14 astronauts in the mid-1990s, China became the third country in the world to put a man in space in 2003. It has sent six individuals into the space since then, and in 2008, Zhai Zhigang completed the country's first successful space walk.


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