As China prepares for its second manned spaceflight, officials with the country's space agency say it will be a while before female Chinese astronauts reach orbit.
According to Qi Faren, chief designer for China's manned spacecraft, there are not yet any female astronauts or pilots qualified to ride aboard a space-bound Shenzhou spacecraft, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.
Chinese astronaut candidates typically amass about 700 hours flying fighter planes to qualify for astronaut status, Xinhua stated.
"Although China has many women aviators now, none of them meet the minimum requirement," Qi told Xinhua.
China was the third nation, after Russia and the U.S., to build a manned spacecraft and launch it into Earth orbit.
It took Russia two years since launching the first human in space - cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961 - to loft the first woman, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who flew aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. In June of 1983, the first U.S. female astronaut, Sally Ride, launched spaceward aboard the space shuttle Challenger 22 years after NASA launched its first human, Alan Shepard, on a sub-orbital flight inside the Freedom 7 spacecraft in May 1961.
China's first manned spaceflight, Shenzhou 5, launched and landed safely in October 2003 with astronaut Yang Liwei at the helm during a 21-hour mission that circled the Earth 14 times. That flight will be followed by Shenzhou-6, a five-day mission manned by two astronauts, which is expected to launch this fall, Qi said, adding that flight's spacecraft has already been assembled for astronaut training.