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Fighter pilot set to become first Chinese woman in space (+video)

Liu Yang will be part of a three-person crew aboard a Chinese spacecraft set to launch Saturday night. She will become China's first woman in space.

Chinese space museum officials talk about the upcoming launch of a Chinese spacecraft that will take the first Chinese woman into space.
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China will send its first woman into outer space this week, prompting a surge of national pride as the rising power takes its latest step towards putting a space station in orbit within the decade.

Liu Yang, a 33-year-old fighter pilot, will join two other astronauts aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft when it lifts off from a remote Gobi Desert launch site on Saturday evening.

They will attempt a manned docking for the first time with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, launched last September and part of China's exploratory preparations for a space lab.

Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels will be an important hurdle in China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills needed to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long stretches.

Beijing is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers: the United States and Russia. The Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.

But the docking mission will be the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, alongside its growing military and diplomatic presence, and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.

Speaking to the official Xinhua news agency, Liu said she "yearns to experience the wondrous, weightless environment of space, see the Earth and gaze upon the motherland".

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