The “Celestial Palace” was the culmination of nearly two decades of Chinese crewed missions into space. China’s manned space flights began in 2003, when a former fighter pilot, Yang Liwei, was sent into orbit in a small bronze-colored capsule, the Shenzhou-5, and became China’s first man in space and home to millions The people immediately hailed the hero.
The space station also symbolizes China’s growing clout and confidence in its space efforts and a challenge to the United States in the domain after being separated from the NASA-led ISS and barred by US law from any direct or indirect cooperation. was. With the US Space Agency.
The Shenzhou-15 mission was led by 57-year-old Fei Junlong, who was from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. His last trip into space was 17 years ago as the commander of China’s second ever manned spacecraft.
Fei was accompanied by Deng Qingming, 56, who trained as an astronaut for 24 years but was never selected for a mission until Shenzhou-15. They were joined by Zhang Lu, 46, a former Air Force pilot who was the first in space.
Astronauts will live and work on the T-shaped space outpost for six months.
The next batch of “taikonauts,” coined from the Chinese word for space, will be selected from the third generation of astronauts with a scientific background to board the station in 2023. The first and second batches of astronauts in the 1990s–2000s were all former Air Force pilots.
China has started the selection process for the fourth batch to seek candidates with doctoral degrees in subjects ranging from biology, physics and chemistry to biomedical engineering and astronomy.
For the first time the selection process has also been opened to applicants from Hong Kong and Macau.
During the next decade of space station operations, China is expected to launch two crewed missions to the orbiting outpost each year.
The resident astronauts are expected to conduct more than 1,000 scientific experiments – from studying how plants adapt in space to how liquids behave in microgravity.