, BEIJING, Jun 11 – China was to launch its longest-ever space mission on Tuesday, with its second woman astronaut among the crew, as it steps up its ambitious space programme, a symbol of the country’s growing power.
The Shenzhou-10 – the name means “Divine Vessel” – was due to lift off at 0938 GMT from the Jiuquan launch centre in the Gobi desert.
The three astronauts on board, including Wang Yaping, 33, who trained as an air force transport pilot, are scheduled to spend 15 days in space, programme spokeswoman Wu Ping said.
Beijing sees the multi-billion-dollar space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise – as well as the ruling Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
It is heavily promoted to the domestic audience. The mission was given blanket coverage in state-run media on Tuesday, with stories and pictures of the astronauts in their blue jumpsuits – a Chinese flag pinned over their chests – on almost every front page.
Wang will teach lessons to schoolchildren via video link during the mission, officials said.
“We are all students in facing the vast universe. We are looking forward to joining our young friends to learn and explore the mystical and beautiful universe,” she told a press conference on Monday.
The official Xinhua news agency ran profiles of the three astronauts, and said that Wang has 1,600 hours of flying experience, including dispelling clouds for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
She is a major in the military and a member of the Communist Party.
“The experience of doing farm work since an early age has made her strong, and the habit of long-distance running tempered her will,” Xinhua said.