China Recruiting More Astronauts
China will begin recruiting its third generation of "yuhangyuan" (astronauts) this year to enable China to push forward with its ambitious military-led space program.
From 10 to 12 people, two of them women, will become candidate astronauts, said Yang Liwei, deputy head of the China Manned Space Agency and the first Chinese astronaut in space.
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He said, however, that the crew of Shenzhou XII will be selected from the current 21 astronauts since the new recruits will still be training. The Shenzhou XII spacecraft will dock with the core module of the Chinese Large Modular Space Station.
Scheduled for 2020, the Shenzhou XII and XIII missions will assemble the space station. At least two such missions will follow in 2021 and 2022. Yang said Shenzhou XII and XIII will each remain in orbit for three to six months.
China will start building its first manned space station in 2019.
Situated in low Earth orbit, the Chinese Large Modular Space Station will be one-sixth the mass of the International Space Station and half the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir Space Station. It should have a mass between 60 and 70 metric tons.
The planned launch date of the space station's core module, Tianhe-1 ("Harmony of the Heavens"), is 2019. In 2017, the Chinese launched the Tianzhou-1 ("Heavenly Vessel") cargo spaceship, which is based on the Tiangong 1 and 2 space laboratories.
Yang said the first step in all this will be the launch of a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket that will orbit the station's core module.
China is the third country to independently achieve manned spaceflight following the former Soviet Union and the United States. It has launched six spacecraft carrying 11 astronauts since 2003, when Yang pioneered the way in Shenzhou V.
Yang said China is conducting preliminary research on manned exploration of the moon.