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Steph Deschamps / June 1, 2023
On Tuesday, China will send a civilian astronaut into space for the first time in its history on a manned mission to the Tiangong space station, the China Human Spaceflight Agency announced.
This astronaut, Gui Haichao, a “payload specialist”, is “a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics”, Lin Xiqiang, spokesman for the space agency, told a press conference on Monday.
Until now, all Chinese astronauts who have launched into space have been members of the People’s Liberation Army.
Mr. Gui will be “mainly responsible for in-orbit management of payloads” dedicated to space science experiments, the spokesman said.
The civilian astronaut will orbit alongside Shenzhou-16 mission commander Jing Haipeng and astronaut Zhu Yangzhu.
The crew is due to take off from the Jiuquan launch base in northwest China at 09:31 local time, according to the space agency.
Projects linked to China’s “space dream” are multiplying under the presidency of Xi Jinping.
The Asian giant has been investing billions of euros in its military-led space program for several decades, enabling it to make up most of the ground lost to the Americans and Russians.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, and its Tiangong (“Celestial 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 landed a small robot on the surface of Mars. China plans to send its first crew to the Moon by 2029.