China picked People’s Liberation Army pilot Liu Yang as its first female astronaut, tapping a woman hailed as a hero for performing an emergency landing after her plane struck a flock of birds.
Liu will be one of three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft when it blasts off tomorrow ahead of the country’s first manned orbital docking with the Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace” module, the Xinhua News Agency reported. She was chosen over another female candidate, Wang Yaping.
Chinese state media have touted Liu’s accomplishments over the last week, framing her selection as part of the country’s broader push to expand its space program while those of other countries have contracted. Tomorrow’s launch may bring China a step closer to its goal of operating a permanent manned space station and putting a person on the moon by 2020.