China is going to send its first female astronaut into space. The mission will mark other firsts for China, too.
China announced Friday it had selected a woman for its upcoming space mission this weekend, a landmark for the country.
"Arranging for women astronauts to fly is not only a must for the development of human spaceflight, but also the expectation of the public," a spokesperson for the space program said.
The chosen female astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, will take part in a 10-day mission with two other astronauts on the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft.
Chinese space program officials selected Liu based on her excellent performance during her two years in training, reports said on Friday. She is a major in the People's Liberation Army and a trained pilot.
"From day one I have been told I am no different from the male astronauts," Liu told state media. "I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens."
Many firsts for China's space program
The crew will be launched from the Jiuquan space center in the Gobi Desert on Saturday at 6:30pm local time (10:37 GMT).
The Shenzhou-9 mission will also mark China's next step toward establishing a permanent space station by 2020.
The crew is scheduled to perform the first manned docking with an orbital capsule. At the beginning of the mission, they will dock to the Tiangong-1, which is currently orbiting the earth. They will then test the two vessels' abilities to support astronauts and operate together during the remainder of the mission.
China follows a June tradition
China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation to do so after the US and the Soviet Union.
The US and Russia also first sent female astronauts into space in the month of June. Soviet Lieutenant Valentina Tereshkova launched on June 16, 1963. The US sent Sally Ride into space 20 years later, on June 18, 1983.
kms/ncy (AFP, dpa, AP)