Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Wednesday, October 15, 2003

People in focus: China's first spaceman Yang Liwei

China successfully launched its first manned spacecraft "Shenzhou V" from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and sent its first astronaut to the space with "Long March CZ-2 F" carrier rocket at 9:00 am Beijing Time October 15. Lieutenant Colonel Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut piloting a spacecraft, is traveling in the space on board Shenzhou-5 at the moment.


With a Long March-II-F carrier rocket pushing Shenzhou-5 into the orbit some 300 kilometers away from the Earth Wednesday morning, Yang Liwei, 38, turns out to be China's first astronaut in space.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday (Beijing time), Yang, aboard Shenzhou-5 white in color, took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the Gobi desert in northwest China's Gansu Province.

He is expected to land somewhere on a central Inner Mongolia grassland at 7 a.m. Thursday, after orbiting the earth 14 times. Yang will be traveling some 500,000 kilometers in space in 21 hours, a "traveler's record" in the world's most populous nation with a 5,000-year-old civilization.

When Shenzhou-5 entered orbit on schedule, the ground command center received a message sent by Yang from outer space, saying that "everything goes smoothly". His name, however, had remained unknown until 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Yang, from Liaoning Province and aged 38, is a member of the Astronaut Team of PLA. Yang was born in June 1965 in Suizhong County of northeast China's Liaoning Province and joined the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) at 18. He graduated from the No. 8 Aviation College of the PLA Air Force in 1987 with a bachelor's degree and became a fighter pilot.

As a Chinese astronaut of the first generation, he was an excellent fighter pilot of PLA air force with the flight experience of 1350 hours. In 1998, he was selected as an astronaut. After five years' hard training and study, he stood out excellent in all of his studies. Before the launch, the command center of the manned space flight made the decision that Yang was to carry out the first manned flight.

At 5 a.m. sharp Wednesday, Yang was seen waving his hands to a group of journalists from inside a glass-shielded room at the Jiuquan launch center, with two other astronauts sitting beside him as "backups".

Yang, who looked calm, found himself in a shower of camera flashlights. He responded with a broad smile.

Su Shuangning, director-general and chief designer of the astronaut system under China's manned space program, described Yang as a sober-minded person with a "superb capability of self-control".

Yang's colleagues described him as a man with a good team spirit, a man of dedication to his career. Friends at his hometown, Suizhong County of northeast China's Liaoning Province, remember that Yang had dreamed of flying when still a child.

Yang was recruited by the No. 2 Aviation College of the PLA AirForce in September 1983 and became a fighter pilot after graduation with bachelor's degree. In 1998, Yang became a member of China's first team of astronauts.

Yang, 168 cm tall, is a lieutenant colonel. He has an eight-year-old son, and his wife, Zhang Yumei, also serves in China's space program.

According to Su Shuangning, China's first team of astronauts are all capable of working and living in space thanks to five years of rigid physical, psychological and technical training. He said that Yang Liwei was one of the best in the team.

In an Astronaut Training Base in Beijing, China's would-be astronauts had lessons necessary for space flight, including aviation dynamics, air dynamics, geophysics, meteorology, astronomy, space navigation, design principle and structure of rockets and spacecraft, as well as equipment examination. Moreover, they received systematic training in space flight in simulators.

"To establish myself as a qualified astronaut, I have studied harder than in my college years and have received training much tougher than for a fighter pilot," said Yang.

If the spaceship's re-entry module could not land at the pre-set areas and the recovery team could not rush to the spot on time, the astronaut must act for self-rescue. "Therefore, survival skills have become one of the most important knowledge for the astronauts to grasp", said Su Shuangning. "Through rigorous training, our astronauts have learned how to survive under extreme conditions."

Twenty-five days before the launch of Shenzhou-5, the would-be astronauts started exercising in the real spacecraft at the Jiuquan Launch Center.

"When I boarded the spacecraft for the first time, I couldn't help feeling excited," Yang recalled. "I decided that I must fly it."

At 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, Yang got seated in the re-entry module of Shenzhou-5, atop a 58.3-meter-high Long March-II-F carrier rocket. Between 1999 and 2002, Long March-II-F carrier rockets were used to launch four unmanned spacecraft into orbit, and all the launches were successful.

At present, China has 14 astronauts, who are selected from among 1,500 pilots in active service of the Chinese air force. As China's first group of astronauts, they are all qualified with every quality and comprehensive abilities for space flight after receiving tough training in basic theories, stamina, psychological quality and specialized technology. China has built up the center for the selection and training of astronauts, developed a series of products and facilities, such as the centrifuge, the analogue training machine and spacesuits. Beijing Research Institute of Space Medical Science has taking up the task for building up a series of astronauts.

By People's Daily Online

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