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With its most ambitious manned launch to date, China sent the countries first female taikonaut (astronaut) into space. Major Liu Yang, 33, is now a national hero after she won the race to become the nations first female space traveller, following the successful launch of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft at 10:37:24 UT on June 16, 2012.

Also on board the three person spacecraft were male companions Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. Haipeng also made history as the first and only Chinese taikonaut to have flown on two missions, Shenzhou-7 and Shenzhou-9.

The launch of the Shenzhou-9 space mission

The mission lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) on the edge of the Gobi desert. The spacecraft then entered into an orbit 340 kilometres (213 miles) above the ground with the aim of docking with the Tiangong 1 space station before returning to Earth 13-14 days later.

Before take-off, Liu told reporters, "I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honoured to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens."