China will send a civilian astronaut into space for the first time in its history on Tuesday, on a mission to the Tiangong space station, AFP informs, according to Agerpres.
That astronaut, Gui Haichao, a “payload specialist,” is a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Lin Xiqiang, a spokesman for the China Manned Space Flight Agency, told a press conference on Monday.
Until now, all Chinese astronauts who have been sent into space have been part of the People’s Republic of China Army.
Gui Haichao “will mainly deal with the on-orbit management of payloads” dedicated to space science experiments, the same spokesman said.
The Chinese civilian astronaut will fly into orbit alongside Shenzhou-16 mission commander Jing Haipeng and astronaut Zhu Yangzhu. This crew will be launched from the Jiuquan base, located in northwest China, on Tuesday at 09:31 local time (01:31 GMT), the Chinese space agency said.
Gui Haichao comes “from an ordinary family” in Yunnan province, said Beihang University, the other name of the institution for which this university professor works.
He “felt attracted to the aerospace field” in 2003, listening to a radio broadcast on the university campus about the flight of the first Chinese man in space, the same higher education institution said on social media.
Projects related to the Chinese “space dream” have multiplied during Xi Jinping’s presidency. The giant Asian country has been investing billions of euros in its military-led space program for decades, which has allowed it to largely recover the gap that separated it from the United States and Russia in the past.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, and its Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) space station became fully operational in late 2022. In 2019, a Chinese vehicle successfully landed on the far side of the Moon. Then, in 2021, China placed a small robot on the surface of the planet Mars. China plans to send a first crew of astronauts to the moon by 2029.
The last module of the Tiangong station successfully connected to the main structure of the orbital laboratory in 2022. This space station is equipped with cutting-edge scientific materials and equipment, including the “first cold atomic clock system” created to work in space, according to the New China news agency.
The Tiangong station will operate in a low-Earth orbit at altitudes between 400 kilometers and 450 kilometers for at least 10 years to allow China to maintain a long-term human presence in space.
The crews of astronauts will be periodically changed to ensure a continuous presence on board the orbital laboratory and will carry out scientific experiments, while also testing a series of new technologies.
The government in Beijing does not intend to use the Tiangong station to cooperate with other countries on the same scale as in the case of the International Space Station (ISS), but has declared itself open to possible collaborations, without specifying their scope.
The Asian country had declared in 2007 that it was willing to cooperate on the International Space Station project, but the US Congress voted in 2011 for a law that prohibited NASA from any collaboration with China or Chinese companies.
Editor : C.L.B.