China's 2nd woman astronaut blasts off amid doubts about claimed age

Hailed as nation's youngest in space, web users say she's not as young as claimed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 1:55pm

Major Wang Yaping became the second Chinese woman in space yesterday, the nation's youngest astronaut to blast off and the first born in the 1980s - if her date of birth announced by Beijing recently can be believed.

Wang travelled into space with Major General Nie Haisheng and Senior Colonel Zhang Xiaoguang on board Shenzhou X, which took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Inner Mongolia yesterday afternoon.

She was preceded into space a year ago by China's first woman astronaut, Major Liu Yang, on the Shenzhou IX mission.

Wang, who joined the People's Liberation Army Air Force in August 1997, told a media briefing on Monday she wanted to show "the post-1980s are a generation that dare to meet challenges". Her official résumé said she was born in January 1980.

However, that résumé became the subject of intense debate among internet users, with reports issued by the PLA Daily and many other mainland media outlets in June last year - when Liu and Wang were listed as the two women candidates for the Shenzhou IX mission - having said Wang was born in April 1978 and Liu on October 6, 1978.

"Why should [the authorities] praise the glory of the post-80s?" one internet user wrote in the Tianya chat room. Another answered: "It's because everything in China should be designed by the upper [political] system for political purposes."

An official source at the Astronaut Centre said yesterday that "the latest résumé [of Wang] is correct", but failed to provide any further explanation.

Wang would also become the nation's first "teacher" in space, Xinhua reported, when she beamed a physics lesson from the orbiting Tiangong I space module back to primary school pupils on earth.

Meanwhile, China's first aircraft carrier left its home port of Qingdao , Shandong , yesterday for the first time since February to conduct scientific experiments and training at sea.

Neither state media nor the authorities disclosed the Liaoning's itinerary, but earlier media reports said the carrier was scheduled to make a high seas voyage some time this year.

On Monday, China announced that its Jiaolong manned submersible, which dived to 7,062 metres in the Pacific in June last year, had left port in Jiangsu aboard its support ship for a 103-day voyage.