17 Jun 2012

China sends woman astronaut into space

5:18 am on 17 June 2012

China has put its first woman into orbit, one of three astronauts to attempt a space docking in the latest demonstration of the country's ambitious space programme.

It is China's fourth manned space mission since 2003.

The Shenzhou-9 capsule rode to orbit atop a Long March rocket from the Jiuquan spaceport on the edge of the Gobi desert.Lift off was at 6.37pm local time on Saturday.

The launch was broadcast live on state television. The mission will last 10 days.

Liu Yang, 33, and her two male colleagues are heading to the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) space lab which was launched last September.

They will spend over a week living and working vessel, testing new systems and conducting a number of scientific experiments, 335km above Earth.

The 10.5 metre craft is a trial module, not a full-fledged space station.

Before leaving Earth, Liu Yang said the Shenzhou-9 mission would generate further pride in Chinese people.

When I was a pilot I flew in the sky; now as an astronaut, I'm going into space. It's higher and it's farther, she said.

Her role in the mission will be to run the medical experiments in orbit.

The crew is commanded by Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut who has been in space twice already.

Liu Wang, who has been in the space programme for 14 years, is in charge of manual docking manoeuvres.