Yang Liwei, China's first space traveler, was born in Suizhong, Liaoning Province in June 1965. He joined the People's Liberation Army in 1983 and is now Deputy Director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center and also Deputy Director General of China's manned space program.
Yang was launched into orbit aboard the spaceship Shenzhou V on October 15, 2003. This saw China taking its place alongside Russia and the United States in that very elite circle of countries able to send their people into space.
Yang was recruited by the Air Force's No.2 Aviation College in September 1983 and became a fighter pilot after graduating with a first degree. In 1998, he joined the country's first team of astronauts.
In the Astronaut Training Base in Beijing, the team undertook the theoretical studies necessary to prepare them for space flight. These included aviation dynamics, aerodynamics, geophysics, meteorology, astronomy, space navigation, and the design principles and structure of rockets and spacecraft. In their practical sessions they learned to check equipment and received systematic spaceflight training in simulators.
Yang's colleagues have described him as, "a man with a good team spirit and dedicated to his career." He was chosen, along with 13 others, from among 1,500 pilots for training for China's first manned spaceflight.
At 9.00 on the morning of October 15, 2003, his training was put to the test as Shenzhou V lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert in northwest China's Gansu Province.
He landed safely on the central grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia at about 7.00 on the following morning, October 16. He had orbited the earth 14 times and traveled 500,000 kilometers.
"To establish myself as a fully trained astronaut, I have studied harder in my college years and have received training much tougher than for a fighter pilot," he recalls. "In order to achieve our goals, we must have the determination to face difficulties and to overcome them. I was pushed to my limits over five years of severe practical training that included tests involving high g-forces and even wilderness survival training."
"When I boarded the spacecraft for the first time, I couldn't help feeling excited knowing I would fly in it," says Yang. "I am proud of becoming a member of the manned space flight project team and being able to witness the development of my country's space technology and industry. I hope my experience will encourage more people to become interested in space technology and support space development."
While continuing spaceflight training Yang has now also taken on new administrative duties including the selection and training of future astronauts and a team management role.
Yang's know-how has proved to be a great asset to the program. For example he played an important role in the planning, organization, astronaut selection, technological preparations for and evaluation of the second manned space flight.
Yang still ranks among the top astronauts trained and evaluated in the training center. "So far, I have only completed one assignment in space, and this doesn't represent my life's work," says Yang. "Shenzhou V has now taken its place in history. As an astronaut, I must always be ready to await my flight orders and accept any new challenge."
Yang hopes that more young people will become interested in participating in space travel. "Our nation's manned space program continues to gain momentum and we will continue to recruit young candidates. I hope more and more young people could be a part of this in the near future."
Yang's wife Zhang Yumei also serves in the space program. They have a 12-year-old son.