In this photo released by China's Xinhua news agency, China's first female astronaut Liu Yang waves as she comes out of the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in Siziwang Banner of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, June 29, 2012.
Photo by Wang Jianmin/Xinhua/AP

Post-baby, China’s first female astronaut is back in training

China’s first female astronaut is returning to work after giving birth, the Associated Press reports.

Liu Yang, 37, confirmed at an awards ceremony this week that she recently had a baby, but revealed nothing else about the newborn. The focus instead was on Yang’s next mission — she has begun training for an attempt to dock with a future space station.

The astronaut’s baby news could reflect a shift for China’s space program. When China invited its first two women astronauts on board in 2010, it was widely reported that married women with children were given preference, supposedly to protect women who may want children against radiation damaging their reproductive health. The claim, however, lacks scientific evidence, and many female astronauts from other countries have given birth after completing missions. 

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Additionally, TIME magazine reported in 2010 that the requirement was in place because, according to a former deputy commander of China’s space program, “married woman are more physically and psychologically mature.” 

Yang checked the married box when she was recruited into China’s space program, but the rest of former fighter pilot’s résumé well out-shadows that single prerequisite: She was a major in China’s air force, had flown 1,680 flying hours as of 2012, and is known by the nickname “little Flying Knight,” according to the BBC.

“From day one, I have been told I am no different from the male astronauts,” Yang told state media in 2012.

Although it has been more than 50 years since Russia sent the first woman to space in 1963, men continue to dominate the field. More than 500 astronauts have ventured into space, but only 59 of them have been women. 

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Post-baby, China's first female astronaut is back in training