China’s next Tiangong space station residents will be its youngest crew ever

Mission commander Tang Hongbo, 48, was part of China’s historic Shenzhou 12 mission in 2021 when the first crew boarded Tiangong.

Tang would not only be the first crew member to live on the space station twice, he would also set a record as the Chinese astronaut “with the shortest interval between two missions”, said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency.
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China’s Shenzhou 16 mission sends its first civilian astronaut into space

China’s Shenzhou 16 mission sends its first civilian astronaut into space

A native of central China’s Hunan province, Tang joined the country’s second batch of astronauts in 2010 after serving as a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In November 2021, he was honoured with the “Heroic Astronaut” award for his contributions to China’s space programme.

Tang said he “dreamed about going back to space” over the past two years, adding that the space station had become home.

“I’m so calm, I’m solely focused on how to accomplish this mission successfully,” he said on Wednesday.

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Jiang Xinlin and Tang Shengjie, also former PLA fighter pilots, are the other two members of the Shenzhou 17 mission.

Tang Shengjie, 33, was picked for China’s third batch of astronauts in 2020. The native of northwest China’s Gansu province is the first astronaut from that province.

As the youngest member of the new crew, Tang Shengjie said on Wednesday that he felt “confident” the crew would accomplish the mission goals.

Jiang, 35, who also joined the space agency in 2020, is from Henan province in central China. He said that he was “lucky to be born in an era” when he can go to space.

The most recent Shenzhou 16 mission signalled the beginning of the “application and development phase” of China’s manned space programme, which includes regularly scheduled experimental work, health monitoring, science education and station maintenance.
The Shenzhou 17 crew will continue the work of the previous crew, which conducted 70 experiments in space medicine, biotechnology, ecology, fluid physics, materials science, among others. They also carried out a spacewalk and several payload missions, Lin said.
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The crew of the Shenzhou 17 mission, (from left) Jiang Xinlin, Tang Hongbo and Tang Shengjie, arrive for a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on Wednesday. Photo: AP

Station maintenance will also be a priority. The facility’s solar array panels have minor damage from “impacts of small space debris”. Space station design takes such impacts into account, Lin said, adding that repairs would improve its long-term operation.

The new crew “will conduct the first extravehicular experimental maintenance of the space station” to repair the damage, Lin said.

“As a commander, I can feel that there is a huge responsibility on my shoulders,” Tang Hongbo said, adding that he is confident and determined to complete the mission with his crew.

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Tang Shengjie said the mission would contribute to the development of China’s space station, and “in the future we will see more scientific and innovative achievements”, that contribute to our understanding of space.

The crew of the Shenzhou 16 mission, which included China’s first civilian astronaut, are expected to return to Earth on October 31.

Before their return, the astronauts will attempt to capture the first high-definition photo of the fully configured space station.

South China Morning Post

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