In China, Female Astronauts Must Wait

As Chinaprepares for its second manned spaceflight, officials with the country's spaceagency say it will be a while before female Chinese astronauts reach orbit.

Accordingto Qi Faren, chief designer for China's manned spacecraft, there are not yetany female astronauts or pilots qualified to ride aboard a space-bound Shenzhouspacecraft, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chineseastronaut candidates typically amass about 700 hours flying fighter planes toqualify for astronaut status, Xinhua stated.

"AlthoughChina has many women aviators now, none of them meet the minimumrequirement," Qi told Xinhua.

China wasthe third nation, after Russia and the U.S., to build a manned spacecraft andlaunch it into Earth orbit.

It tookRussia two years since launching the first human in space - cosmonaut YuriGagarin aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961 - to loft the first woman, cosmonautValentina Tereshkova, who flew aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. In June of 1983,the first U.S. female astronaut, Sally Ride, launched spaceward aboard thespace shuttle Challenger 22 years after NASA launched its first human, AlanShepard, on a sub-orbital flight inside the Freedom 7 spacecraft in May 1961.

China'sfirst manned spaceflight, Shenzhou 5, launched and landed safely in October2003 with astronaut Yang Liwei at the helm during a 21-hour mission thatcircled the Earth 14 times. That flight will be followed by Shenzhou-6, afive-day mission manned by two astronauts, which is expected to launch thisfall, Qi said, adding that flight's spacecraft has already been assembled forastronaut training.

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.