38-year old Lieutenant Colonel Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, stepped out of his re-entry module into history at 06:23 Thursday Oct. 16 2003. Yang's pioneering journey made China the third country in the world, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to carry out a manned space mission.
"I want to say hello to people around the world, to other astronauts in space, to my people, including compatriots in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese. Thank you for your regards," Yang had said as his Shenzhou-V craft orbited the earth at a distance of 343 km.
Yang spent 21 hours in space, orbiting the Earth 14 times, traveling more than 600,000 km, and becoming the 241st human being to visit outer space.
Yang, who notched up 1,350 flying hours as a fighter pilot, carried out more than 200 tasks during his spaceflight. Born in June 1965 in northeast China's Liaoning Province, Yang graduated from the No. 8 PLA Aviation College in 1987. He was selected as a member of China's first team of astronauts in 1998.
Before embarking on his flight, Yang had to undergo five years of rigid physical, psychological and technical training. He recalled the centrifuge training as particularly stressful but got through it. "The machine has a red button in case you can't stand it any longer, but as far as I recall, no one has ever pushed the button," he said. He added that the underwater training was so draining that astronauts couldn't hold a pair of chopsticks after emerging from the water.
After being crowned a "space hero" on his return, Yang said, "I think no matter who finally undertook the task, he would simply represent the whole team of Chinese astronauts. Most people who contributed to China's first manned space flight received no recognition but the achievement belongs to all."
On July 22, 2008, the General Armaments Department of the People's Liberation Army promoted Yang to the rank of major general.