US astronauts wish Chinese peers well

Updated: 2012-06-15 02:57

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York(China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

US astronauts wish Chinese peers well

Mae Jemison (L) is the first African-American female astronaut and Pamela Melroy is a former US astronaut. 

As China is set to send its first female astronaut into space this weekend, American women who have made the journey will be tracking her historic trip.

Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, said she believes the inclusion of women in the space program is highly significant for young Chinese women.

Growing up during NASA's high-profile Apollo era of human space travel, Jemison was both irritated and confused by the program's lack of women.

"If I had seen someone like me involved in NASA when I was a little girl, it would have given me a great big grin and made things a whole lot easier when I was starting out," she said. "It's not just that you can see yourself in that position, but also the fact that then other people understand that there is a wide range of talent to draw from.

"Including female astronauts on the Chinese launch is a very conscious and important decision," said Jemison, who served as a mission specialist aboard space shuttle Endeavour on its second trip into orbit in September 1992.

NASA, the US space agency, suffered as a result of its gender exclusion during the early years of space travel, said Howard McCurdy, a professor of public affairs at the American University in Washington, and the author of several books about space.

"If humans are going to travel in space, it's important to include both men and women," he said. "Having women in space helps build public support for the endeavor."

For China, leaving out women would be cutting the potential for progress in half, Jemison said.

"China has tremendous talent and resources, but if you don't bring all your best players in, you're not going to have the best opportunities to understand how things can be better, and how to make stuff happen more effectively. I'm very excited that women will be included on this flight."

Pamela Melroy, a former astronaut and air force pilot who served both as pilot and commander on US space shuttle missions before retiring in 2009, pointed to China's requirement that its taikonauts be trained as military pilots. She said this ensures Liu Yang — the likelier of the two women to be on board the Shenzhou IX craft when it docks with the orbiting Tiangong-1 module — will be of a special breed.

"I feel a special kinship with her, because there are so few women pilots in space," Melroy said in an interview with China Daily. There have only been three American women pilots, all during the shuttle program; most female astronauts have been scientists and engineers.

"I am so excited and pleased," she said.

Melroy, a veteran of three shuttle missions — she piloted Discovery in 2000 and Atlantis in 2002 and was commander aboard Discovery in 2007 — hasn't met Liu or Wang Yaping, the other woman being considered for this weekend's mission, but she has spent time with other taikonauts at international conferences.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page