China will send its first civilian into space on Tuesday

China will send a civilian astronaut into space for the first time in its history on Tuesday for a manned mission to the Tiangong space station with the aim of sending a crew to the moon by 2030.

Until now, all Chinese astronauts who have taken off into space have been part of the People’s Liberation Army.

Gui Haichao, a professor at Beihang University, will lead scientific experiments during the mission, Lin Xiqiang, spokesperson for China’s Human Spaceflight Agency, told reporters on Monday.

The astronaut will conduct “large-scale in-orbit experiments” to study “new quantum phenomena, high-precision time-frequency space systems, verification of general relativity, and the origin of life,” the astronaut said. spokesperson.

“I’ve always dreamed of this,” rejoiced Mr. Gui on Monday at a press conference.

Mr. Gui comes from an “ordinary family” in Yunnan province (west), described Beihang University.

He “felt an attraction for aerospace” in 2003, following on his campus radio the flight of the first Chinese in space, his university reported on social networks.

“It means that from this mission, China opens the door to space for ordinary citizens,” he said.

Gui is scheduled to take off from the Jiuquan launch base in northwest China on Tuesday at 9:31 a.m. local time (0131 GMT), the space agency said.

The civilian astronaut will fly in orbit alongside Shenzhou-16 mission commander Jing Haipeng – who is on his fourth flight, according to state media – and engineer Zhu Yangzhu.

They will stay for about five months at the station.

– “Space dream” –

Projects related to the Chinese “space dream” are multiplying under the presidency of Xi Jinping.

The Chinese space station Tiangong (AFP – Laurence CHU)

The Asian giant has been investing billions of euros in its military-led space program for several decades, which has enabled it to make up most of its delay against the Americans and the Russians.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, and its Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) space station has been fully operational since late 2022. In 2019, a Chinese craft landed on the far side of the Moon. Then, in 2021, China brought a small robot to the surface of Mars.

It plans to send a first crew to the Moon by 2030 where Beijing wants to establish a base, which spokesman Lin Xiqiang reaffirmed on Monday.

“The main objective is to achieve the first landing (of a crew) on the Moon by 2030 and to carry out lunar scientific exploration” as well as experiments in technology, he described. .

The last module of Tiangong station successfully docked with the main structure of the facility in 2022.

The orbital base is equipped with state-of-the-art scientific equipment, including the “first cold atomic clock system” for space, according to the New China news agency.

Tiangong is expected to fly in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 400 to 450 kilometers for at least 10 years to allow China to maintain a long-term human presence in space.

Gui Haichao during a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on May 29, 2023. (AFP - Hector RETAMAL)
Gui Haichao during a press conference at the Jiuquan satellite launch center in northwest China on May 29, 2023. (AFP – Hector RETAMAL)

Crews will take turns to ensure a continuous presence within the orbital laboratory, will carry out scientific experiments and test new technologies.

Beijing does not plan to use Tiangong for cooperation with other countries on the same scale as the International Space Station, but says it is open to possible collaborations whose scope is unknown.

China “looks forward to and welcomes the participation of foreign astronauts in manned missions to the country’s space station,” Lin said Monday.

China was kicked off the International Space Station in 2011 when Washington banned NASA from cooperating with Beijing.

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