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Business News/ Science / News/  Countdown begins as China is set to send first civilian astronaut to Tiangong space station tomorrow

China, the world's second-largest economy, has been investing billions of dollars into its military-run space program, aiming to close the gap and catch up with the United States and Russia in space exploration. 

China set to send civilian astronaut to space for first time

In a historic move, China's Manned Space Agency announced that it will send its first civilian astronaut into space as part of the crewed Shenzhou XVI mission to the Tiangong space station on Tuesday. Until now, all Chinese astronauts sent into space have been members of the People's Liberation Army. Gui Haichao, a payload expert and professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has been selected as the first civilian astronaut. Gui will play a crucial role in the on-orbit operation of space science experimental payloads.

Gui "first felt the attraction of aerospace" listening to the news of China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, on campus radio in 2003,Gui's university, known as Beihang University in English, said in a post on social media.

Crew for the Shenzhou XVI mission

The crew for the Shenzhou XVI mission consists of mission commander Jing Haipeng, who will embark on his fourth space mission, and engineer Zhu Yangzhu. They are scheduled to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China on Tuesday at 9:31 am local time.

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

Once finished, Tiangong is expected to remain in low Earth orbit at between 400 and 450 kilometres (250 and 280 miles) above the planet for at least 10 years, realising an ambition to maintain a long-term human presence in space.

China's ‘space dream’ has gained significant momentum under President Jinping

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China's "space dream" has gained significant momentum. The nation has set its sights on ambitious goals, including building a base on the Moon. The National Space Administration has announced plans for a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China's Tiangong space station is a vital component of its space program. Equipped with cutting-edge scientific equipment, including the world's first space-based cold atomic clock system, Tiangong will foster scientific research and technological testing. It is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for at least a decade, hosting rotating teams of three astronauts conducting experiments and contributing to China's long-term human presence in space.

While China does not intend to engage in global cooperation on the scale of the International Space Station, the country has expressed openness to foreign collaboration. The extent and nature of such collaboration, however, remain uncertain. China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011 when the United States imposed a ban on NASA's engagement with the country.

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Updated: 29 May 2023, 10:54 AM IST
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