On June 5, China successfully launched Shenzhou 14, a spaceflight transporting three taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to the Tiangong space station, where they will live and work for the next six months.
Chinese netizens followed the launch closely, and a trending hashtag related to the mission has amassed more than 110 million views on the microblogging platform Weibo.
One of the reasons for the buzz is Liu Yang, the only female taikonaut of the trio, which also includes Chen Dong and Cai Xuzhe, the latter of whom is on his first mission to space.
Liu Yang before embarking on the Shenzhou 14 mission. Image via Wikimedia
To better understand Liu’s fandom, let’s go back a few years: In 2012, Liu completed her first space mission and spent 13 days onboard the Shenzhou 9 — a historic occasion marking the first time a Chinese woman went to space.
In 2013, Wang Yanping took up the torch, becoming the second Chinese woman to embark on a space mission. Wang also made history last year; not only was she the first Chinese woman to complete a spacewalk, but she also set the record as the taikonaut who has spent the longest time in space (187 days).
Going back to Liu: While the 43-year-old has spent her energies on personal pursuits in the past decade (such as earning her Ph.D. and becoming a mother of two), she was invited to join the Shenzhou crew once again.
Her participation in the mission feels like coming full circle. After all, Shenzhou 9 was the first spaceflight to reach the Tiangong space station’s prototype, and Shenzhou 14’s crew is responsible for overseeing the final stages of its construction.
A screenshot of Liu Yang smiling at the camera before entering the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft. Image via Weibo
Seconds before entering Shenzhou 14, Liu posed for the press, using her fingers to form a heart shape. The cute picture of Liu has melted netizens’ hearts.
Another snap that has made its rounds on Chinese social media depicts Liu casually checking her phone after settling in at the space station. The image’s related hashtag has garnered 130 million views on Weibo.
Liu Yang on her phone after arriving at the space station. Image via <a href="https://weibo.com/n/%E6%88%91%E4%BB%AC%E7%9A%84%E5%A4%AA%E7%A9%BA?layerid=4777103889534823">Weibo</a>
“This is me after I move into a new apartment,” a netizen joked, alluding to the pile of boxes behind Liu and her messy hair. Another Weibo user mused on the taikonauts enjoying some downtime after a long day of work, “First thing to do after work: Browse your phone.”
“Wow, now her IP location will be super cool!” another opined, referring to the new function of various Chinese social media platforms that displays users’ location based on their IP addresses to ‘discourage misinformation.’
The three taikonauts have moved into their outer space quarters and started to conduct their tasks. We look forward to receiving more updates from the crew as the mission unfolds.
Cover image via Wikimedia