Profile of Liu Yang, China's first woman astronaut

Image source, Reuters

Liu Yang has become China's first woman in space, after she and two male colleagues were blasted off from the edge of the Gobi Desert en route for the Tiangong space module.

The 33-year-old is a major in China's air force.

State TV, which has aired documentaries about her, says she trained to fly transport planes and was cool under pressure after a multiple bird strike disabled one engine on her plane.

Hailing from the central province of Henan, she is also described as an eloquent speaker, an avid reader and a lover of cooking.

Ms Liu first joined the army in 1997 and has flown 1,680 flying hours since then. On China's Tencent QQ messaging service, she goes by the name "little Flying Knight".

She was recruited into China's space programme only two years ago, but she excelled, the official news agency Xinhua says.

"From day one I have been told I am no different from the male astronauts," she told state media.

"As a pilot, I flew in the sky. Now that I am an astronaut, I will fly in space. This flight will be much higher and further away."

Career choice

In a TV press conference from the launch site, she appeared alongside her male colleagues saying perseverance was "the key to success", and pledged not to let China down.

But as a child, Ms Liu considered different careers. Xinhua said she first wanted to become "a lawyer like the ones in television series".

Then, it added, "the first time she sat on a bus with her mother, she also thought becoming a bus conductor would be great, as she could ride the bus every day".

In an interview with China's CCTV, she said she felt "very guilty" that she had not been able to spend time with her family during intense training for the missions.

"He has been very supportive of me," Ms Liu said of her husband. "I am very thankful to him."