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China to send first civilian astronaut into space

His name is Gui Haichao, and his name will go down in the history of his country. On Tuesday, China will send a civilian astronaut into space for the first time for a manned mission to the Tiangong space station. A new step in realizing their ambitions to explore beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

Gui Haichao, a “payload specialist,” is a “professor at the University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Beijing,” Lin Xiqiang, spokesman for the China Space Flight Agency, told a press conference on Monday.

Until now, all Chinese astronauts who went into space were part of the People’s Liberation Army of China. Gouy will be “principally responsible for in-orbit control of payloads” for space science experiments, the spokesman said.

The civilian astronaut will go into orbit along with Shenzhou-16 mission commander Jing Haipeng and astronaut Zhu Yangzhu. The crew is due to lift off from the Jiuquan Space Center in northwest China at 9:31 local time (02:31 French time) on Tuesday, the space agency said.

Gui Haichao comes from an “ordinary family” in Yunnan Province (west), described at Beihang University, where the professor works. He “felt attracted to the aerospace industry” in 2003 after talking on his campus radio about the first Chinese man in space.

“Space Dream”

Projects related to China’s “space dream” are multiplying under Xi Jinping’s presidency. The Asian giant has invested billions of euros in its military-led space program over several decades, allowing it to make up for much of its delay against the Americans and 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 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon. Then, in 2021, China brought a small robot to the surface of Mars. By 2029, it is planned to send the first crew to the moon.

The last module of the 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 atomic cold clock system” for space, according to the New China News Agency.

“Maintaining presence” in space

Tiangong is expected to operate in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 400 to 450 kilometers for at least ten years to allow China to maintain a long-term human presence in space: crews will take turns maintaining a permanent presence in the orbiting laboratory, conducting scientific experiments and test new technologies.

Beijing does not plan to use Tiangong to cooperate with other countries on the same scale as the International Space Station, but says it is open to possible cooperation, the extent of which is unknown.

China was expelled from the International Space Station in 2011 when Washington banned NASA from working with Beijing.

Source: Le Parisien

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