Chinese astronauts training for space station crewed flights
BEIJING (AP) - China announced Thursday that a cohort of astronauts is training for four crewed missions this year as the country works to complete its first permanent space station in orbit.
The station's core module, dubbed Tianhe, could be launched as early as next month, according to the Chinese space agency and foreign observers. The massive Long March-5B Y2 rocket and its payload were brought into place for assembly and testing last month at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in tropical Hainan Province.
This launch would be the first of eleven missions over the next two years that will have completed construction of the station by the end of 2022. Two more modules will be launched later, along with four cargo supply missions in Tianzhou and the four crewed missions in Shenzhou.
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CNSA listed 12 crewed astronauts for the missions, including veterans of previous flights to Shenzhou, newcomers and women, although it was not clear whether others were selected.
According to reports, up to three crew members will live in the core module at the same time, which has docking ports for attaching scientific modules later on.
China has already launched two smaller experimental space stations to test measures for rendezvous, docking and life support on board. After completion, the permanent space station will allow stays of up to six months, similar to the international space station.
The Chinese station is expected to be in use for 15 years and possibly outlast the ISS, which is nearing the end of its useful life.
The ISS is supported by the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, Canada, and other countries, but China did not participate, in part at the urging of the United States, which was careful to share technology with the secret, militarily-affiliated Chinese program.
However, China's space program has made steady progress since it first put an astronaut into orbit in 2003.
A rover drove to the little-explored other side of the moon in 2019.
Another vehicle, the Tianwen-1, is on a parking orbit around Mars to land a rover on the surface in the coming months. If this succeeds, China would be only the second country after the USA to take a spaceship to Mars.
China is also working on a reusable spacecraft and planning a manned lunar mission and a possible permanent research base on the moon, although no data has been suggested.
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