The Shenzhou 9 astronauts are expected to perform at least two docking tests, one manual and the other automatic, and spend several days living and working inside the Tiangong 1 lab, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for the China Manned Space Engineering Office that oversees China's human spaceflight program. [China's Shenzhou 9 Docking Mission Pictures]
As China's first woman to fly in space, Liu was selected from a field female military pilots to join China's astronaut corps. She joined China's Air Force in 1997 and served in the Wuhan Flight Unit before being selected for the astronaut program.
Another female Chinese pilot, Wang Yaping, was also in the running to fly on the Shenzhou 9 crew. Liu currently holds the rank of major, Xinhua reported. [Women in Space: A Gallery of Firsts]
"China's first female astronaut in space … will be the 56th woman to fly into space out of the more than 500 people that have made it into orbit worldwide," said space history and artifacts expert Robert Pearlman, editor of collectSPACE.com, a SPACE.com partner site. "The first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was launched on June 16, 1963. If Shenzhou 9 launches on Saturday, it will be exactly 49 years to the day after Tereshkova's historic first flight."