JIUQUAN – The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center held a see-off ceremony for China’s first female astronaut and two male crew mates, due to board the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, on Saturday afternoon. China’s astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang attend the setting-out ceremony at the taikonauts’ apartment compound of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Northwest China’s Gansu Province, June 16, 2012.[Photo/Xinhua]
The spacecraft, which is expected to fulfill the country’s first manned space docking mission, is set to blast off at 6:37 pm Saturday. The ceremony was held in the launch center sitting in the Gobi Desert of northwest China. Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, attended the ceremony to see off the astronauts.
“On behalf of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the State Council, the Central Military Commission, General Secretary and President and CMC Chairman Hu Jintao, as well as people from all ethnic groups across the country, I wish you a full success,” he said. The manned space docking mission is important for the second step of the country’s three-step manned space mission and a major development of the country’s space technology, he said.
The mission will face challenges but, with the strong support of the country and people, careful preparations and hard training, the crew will surely fulfil their tasks, he said. “The country and the people are looking forward to your successful return,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We are grateful to the care and love from the Party and the people. We will obey orders and follow directions. We will remain calm and operate carefully to fulfil our nation’s first manned rendezvous and docking mission. The motherland and people can rest assured,” said Jing Haipeng, commander of the mission. The astronauts walked out of the apartment compound, called Wentiange, or “Ask-the-Sky Pavilion,” at the launch center, and came to a square where they reported to Chang Wanquan, commander-in-chief of the country’s manned space mission.
“Comrade Commander-in-chief, we will bear the first manned space docking mission as ordered. All preparations are done. On your command,” reported Jing.
“Proceed!” Chang said. Amid cheerful music, the astronauts took a ground vehicle and arrived at the launch pad in about ten minutes. All three crew members were former pilots of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They are all members of the Communist Party of China. Enlisted in the army in 1997, 33-years-old Liu Yang was a veteran pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience and the deputy head of a flight unit of the PLA’s Air Force before being recruited into China’s second batch of prospective astronauts in May 2010. She is now an air force major.
After two years of training that has shown up her astronautic skills and adaptability to the space environment, Liu excelled in testing and was selected in March this year as a candidate to crew the Shenzhou-9.
Jing, 46, was one of the three crew members who achieved success in 2009 aboard Shenzhou-7, China’s third manned space mission and one which featured the country’s first ever space walk.
Now a senior colonel, Jing joined the PLA in 1985 and has clocked 1,200 hours of safe flight time. He was selected to be one of the first group of Chinese astronauts in January 1998, and was among six astronauts trained in 2005 for the Shenzhou-6 mission.
The third astronaut, 43-years-old Liu Wang, joined the army in 1988 and is now a senior colonel. Having flown safely for 1,000 hours, the former pilot was selected to be trained as an astronaut in January 1998. All three were chosen as candidates for the Shenzhou IX flight in March 2012.