China set to send first civilian into its Tiangong space station

Web Desk
May 29, 2023

It is the fifth manned mission to the Chinese space station since 2021

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Astronauts Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao attend a press conference before the Shenzhou-16 spaceflight mission to China's space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, near Jiuquan, China May 29, 2023. — Reuters

After sending several astronauts from Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), China has announced that it will send its first civilian, a professor at Beijing's Beihang University, to space Tuesday, under the ambitious mission at its space outpost as Beijing is intending to land on the moon by 2030.

It is the fifth manned mission to the Chinese space station since 2021.

The professor named Gui Haichao for the crewed mission to the Tiangong space station will be responsible for the management of scientific experiments on the station during the mission, China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) spokesperson Lin Xiqiang told reporters Monday.

China poured billions of dollars into its space exploration activities competing with the United States and Russia after years of belatedly matching their milestones.

This photo shows a Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft, being transported to the launching area at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in China's northwestern Gansu province. — AFP/File

Lin said: "His mission will carry out large-scale, in-orbit experiments... in the study of novel quantum phenomena, high-precision space time-frequency systems, the verification of general relativity, and the origin of life."

Professor Gui said in the press conference that I have "always had this dream."

His university said he hailed from an "ordinary family" in the southwest province of Yunnan.

He had "first felt the attraction of aerospace listening to the news of China’s first man in space, Yang Liwei, on-campus radio in 2003, the institution said in a post on social media.

An independent analyst Chen Lan told AFP that Gui's addition is "particularly significant", given previous missions only carried astronauts trained as pilots responsible for more technical tasks and not specialist scientists.

A member from the China space program stands before the launch platform of the Shenzhou-16 Manned Space Flight Mission on May 29, 2023. — AFP

"It means that, from this mission on, China will open the door to space for ordinary people," he said.

Gui is scheduled to take off onboard the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China Tuesday at 9:31am, the CMSA said.

The commander is Jing Haipeng — on his fourth mission into space — and the third crew member is engineer Zhu Yangzhu, state media reported.

Jing said he hadn’t gone home for nearly four years because of fears travel could disrupt his training.

"As astronauts going into space... our main responsibility and mission is striving for glory for our country," he said at a press conference Monday.

The three will stay in Earth’s orbit for around five months.

Xi Jinping's space dream

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream" have begun to start rolling.

Beijing is eyeing to establish a lunar base and CMSA spokesman Lin on Monday reaffirmed Beijing's plan to land a manned mission there by 2030.

Chinese President Xi Jinping leaves at the end of a joint press conference in China's northern Shaanxi province on May 19, 2023. — AFP

"The overall goal is to achieve China's first manned landing on the Moon by 2030 and carry out lunar scientific exploration and related technological experiments," CMSA said.

The final module of the T-shaped Tiangong — which means "heavenly palace" — successfully docked with the core structure last year.

According to Xinhua report, the station carries a number of pieces of cutting-edge scientific equipment including "the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system."

The Tiangong is likely to stay in low Earth orbit at between 400 and 450 kilometres (250 and 280 miles) above the planet for at least 10 years.

It is constantly crewed by rotating teams of three astronauts.

As Beijing does not have any plans to use Tiangong for global cooperation on the scale of the International Space Station (ISS), China said it is open to foreign collaboration.

China "is looking forward to and welcomes the participation of foreign astronauts in the country's space station flight missions," Lin said Monday.

China has been effectively excluded from the ISS since 2011 when the US prohibited Nasa from keeping any engagement with the world’s second-largest economy.

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