A three-man crew of astronauts is this month to blast off for a three-month mission on China’s new space station, said a space official who was the country’s first astronaut in orbit.
The plans for the station’s first crew were confirmed on state television by Yang Liwei (楊利偉), the crewed space program’s deputy chief designer, as an automated spacecraft was launched with fuel and supplies for the Tianhe station.
The Tianhe is the third and largest space station launched by China’s increasingly ambitious space program. Its core module was launched into orbit on April 29.
The Shenzhou 12 capsule carrying the crew would be launched from the Jiuquan base in China’s northwest this month, Yang said in comments broadcast on Saturday by China Central Television.
They would practice spacewalks and conduct repairs and maintenance, as well as scientific operations.
Yang, who orbited Earth in 2003, gave no details of the astronauts’ identities or a flight date, and said that the crew would come from the program’s two earliest groups of astronauts.
Asked whether women would be in the crew, Yang said: “On Shenzhou 12 we don’t have them, but missions after that all will have them.”
The Tianzhou-2 spacecraft that docked with Tianhe on Sunday carried cargo including space suits, food and equipment for the astronauts, and fuel for the station, according to the space program.
The space agency plans a total of 11 launches through the end of next year to deliver two more modules for the station, supplies and the crew.
Astronauts on the Tianhe will practice making spacewalks with two people outside the hull at one time, Yang said.
Beijing does not participate in the International Space Station, largely due to US objections.
China has sent 11 astronauts, including two women, into space beginning with Yang’s flight in October 2003.
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