Yang Liwei (simplified Chinese: 杨利伟; traditional Chinese: 楊利偉; pinyin: Yáng Lìwěi ) (born 21 June 1965) is a major general, military pilot, and China National Space Administration astronaut. In 2003, he became the first person sent into space by the Chinese space program. This mission, Shenzhou 5, made China the third country to independently send humans into space.
Yang was born in Suizhong County, Huludao, Liaoning province. His mother was a teacher, and his father was an accountant at a state agricultural firm. Yang Liwei's wife is also a People's Liberation Army (PLA) officer, with whom he has a son.
In 1983, he was admitted to the Number 2 PLAAF Flight Academy (空军第2飞行学院) and graduated four years later. He participated in the screening process for astronauts in 1996.
In the PLAAF, he logged 1350 hours of flight time as a fighter pilot before he went to space training.
Yang was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1998 and has trained for space flight since then. He was chosen from the final pool of 13 candidates to fly on China's first manned space mission. A former fighter pilot in the Aviation Military Unit of the PLA, he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time of his mission. He was promoted to full Colonel on 20 October 2003. According to the Youth Daily, the decision had been made in advance of his spaceflight, but Yang was not made aware of it.
He was launched into space aboard his Shenzhou 5 spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 09:00 CST (01:00 UTC) on 15 October 2003. Prior to his launch almost nothing was made public about the Chinese astronaut candidates; his selection for the Shenzhou 5 launch was only leaked to the media one day before the launch.
Yang Liwei has reported the apparition of abnormal vibrations 120 seconds after launch, he described as "very uncomfortable". As a consequence, corrective measures were swiftly taken to the design of the following CZ-2F carrier rocket for the Shenzhou-6.
Yang punctuated his journey with regular updates on his condition—variations of "I feel good", the last coming as the capsule floated to the ground after re-entry. He spoke to his wife as the Shenzhou 5 started its eighth circuit around the Earth, assuring her from space: "I feel very good, don't worry". He ate specially designed packets of shredded pork with garlic, Kung Pao chicken and eight treasure rice, along with Chinese herbal tea. In the middle of the journey, state television broadcast footage of Yang waving a small flag of the People's Republic of China and that of the United Nations inside his capsule.
State media said Yang's capsule was supplied with a gun, a knife and tent in case he landed in the wrong place.
Yang's craft landed in the grasslands of the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia at around 06:30 CST on October 16, 2003 (22:00 UTC), having completed 14 orbits and travelled more than 600,000 km. Yang left the capsule about 15 minutes after landing, and was congratulated by Premier Wen Jiabao. But the astronaut's bleeding lips seen in the official images broadcast sparked rumours of a hard landing confirmed by accounts of personnel present at the landing site.
Although the first Chinese citizen in space, Yang Liwei is not the first person of Chinese origin in space. Shanghai-born Taylor Wang flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-51-B in 1985. Wang, however, had become a United States citizen in 1975.
Yang visited Hong Kong on 31 October 2003, holding talks and sharing his experiences during a six-day stay in the territory. The visit coincided with an exhibition that featured his reentry capsule, spacesuit and leftover food from his 21-hour mission. On November 5, he travelled to Macau.
On 7 November, Yang received the title of "Space Hero" from Jiang Zemin, the Chairman of the PRC Central Military Commission (CMC). He also received a badge of honour during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People. Russia awarded him the Gagarin medal. The Chinese University of Hong Kong has given Yang an honorary doctorate.
In a move similar to that taken by the Soviet Union with national space flight hero Yuri Gagarin, an official decision to no longer assign him to spaceflight missions was made. Yang was promoted to Major General on 22 July 2008.