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China's first female astronaut: Who is she? (+video)

Liu Yang, a fighter pilot, is slated to become China's first female astronaut to travel into space on Saturday.

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Yang was recruited into China's second class of prospective astronauts in May 2010. After two years of arduous training, she excelled in testing — Chinese astronauts must score perfectly on a series of tough examinations — and was selected this March as a candidate to crew the Shenzhou-9.

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Her selection quickly became the most trending subject on the country's Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, with 33 million posts. One user wrote, "Liu Yang, on the eve of becoming our first woman is space, is the pride of Henan." [7 Notable American Astronauts]

At Friday's press conference, Yang addressed her fans: "I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens."

Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space program, said having Yang on board will not only help the country's aspiring space program test equipment designed for women in preparation for the building of an orbiting space station, but it will also expand the social impact of human space missions. Echoing a famous Chinese proverb, Ping said, "Women hold up half the sky. Human space missions without women are incomplete."

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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