China achieved a significant milestone on May 30, 2023, by successfully sending The first civilian astronaut into space as part of the Shenzhou-16 mission to the Tiangong space station. Read more.
This momentous event marks China’s second crew rotation to its space station.
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu province served as the launch site for the mission. Three astronauts were aboard the Long March 2F rocket: Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu, and Gui Haichao. These individuals will embark on a remarkable five-month journey through space.
Gui Haichao, a 36-year-old professor from China’s Beihang University, is the first Chinese civilian to venture into space. Haichao’s responsibilities include managing payloads for space experiments. Jing and Zhu, on the other hand, will operate and oversee the spacecraft while conducting technical tests.
Expressing his eagerness to learn from mission commander Jing Haipeng, a member of China’s inaugural astronaut team in 1998, Haichao stated, “With Jing’s guidance and the crew members’ close cooperation, we will successfully carry out our duties. We are dedicated to contributing to the ‘New Era’ and fulfilling the Party’s and the people’s expectations.”
Interestingly, Haichao wears glasses, a departure from the norm for space travellers. Despite undergoing rigorous training, including survival exercises in the desert, sleep deprivation tests, and underwater drills, some critics questioned his suitability due to his vision impairment.
In response, China’s State Administration of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) clarified that preparedness for the mission prioritizes mental resilience over physical attributes.
The Shenzhou-16 crew will relieve the Shenzhou-15 astronauts, who have already completed their mission at the Tiangong space station, the heavenly palace in Chinese. As China’s first fully-fledged space laboratory, Tiangong was finalized in 2022 and boasted an array of payloads, equipment, and the world’s first ‘cold’ atomic clock.
This remarkable achievement signifies China’s fifth human-crewed mission to space since 2021. With substantial investments in its space program, China aims to catch up with the United States and plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030.