China will launch its first civilian astronaut into space on Tuesday as part of a crewed mission to the Tiangong space station, the country’s Manned Space Agency announced, as Beijing pursues its extraterrestrial ambitions.
After years of lagging behind the United States and Russia, the second-largest economy in the world has poured billions of dollars into its military-run space program in an attempt to catch up.
All Chinese astronauts who have been sent into space until now have been members of the People’s Liberation Army.
“Payload expert Gui Haichao is a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics,” China Manned Space Agency Spokesperson Lin Xiqiang told reporters on Monday.
Gui will have “primary responsibility for the on-orbit operation of space science experimental payloads,” according to Lin.
The second-largest economy has spent billions on its military-run space program to catch up with the US and Russia.
The commander is Jing Haipeng, who, according to state media, is on his fourth space mission, and the third crew member is engineer Zhu Yanghu.
According to the Manned Space Agency, the launch is scheduled for Tuesday at 9:31 a.m. local time (0131 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China.
The university that Gui attended, known in English as Beihang University, stated that he was from a “ordinary family” in the western Yunnan province.
In 2003, he “felt the attraction of aerospace for the first time” after hearing on campus radio about China’s first man in space, Yang Liwei, according to a social media post from the university.
Plans for China’s “space dream” have accelerated under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
China intends to construct a lunar base, and the country’s National Space Administration has stated that a manned lunar mission will be launched by 2029.
Last year, the final module of the T-shaped Tiangong — whose name means “heavenly palace” — successfully docked with the primary structure.
The station carries a variety of cutting-edge scientific apparatus, including “the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system”, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.
Also See | Indian Space Policy: ISRO will concentrate on R&D
Tiangong is expected to remain in low Earth orbit between 400 and 450 kilometers (250 and 280 miles) above the planet for at least ten years, realizing a desire to maintain a permanent human presence in space.
It will always be staffed by teams of three astronauts, who will conduct scientific experiments and assist with the testing of new technologies.
Although China has no plans to use Tiangong for international cooperation on the magnitude of the International Space Station, Beijing has stated that it is receptive to international collaboration.
Uncertainty exists regarding the scope of this partnership.
China has been effectively excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States prohibited NASA from engaging with the country.