A Chinese spacecraft will blast off from the Gobi Desert on a rocket in the coming days, ferrying three men to an orbiting space module for a three-month stay.
China is aiming to complete its space station by 2022 and become a major spacefaring power by 2030
There are no women on this mission but they are expected to participate in every future mission
China landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2019 in a global first
It is the first time in nearly five years that China is sending humans into space.
Shenzhou-12, meaning “Divine Vessel”, will be the third of 11 missions needed to complete China’s space station by 2022.
Four will be missions with people on board.
Chinese astronauts have had a relatively low international profile.
A US law banning NASA from any connection with China means its astronauts have not been to the more than two-decade-old International Space Station, visited by more than 240 men and women of various nationalities.
China, which aims to become a major space-faring power by 2030, in May became the second country to put a rover on Mars, two years after landing the first spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
It also plans to put astronauts on the moon — the farthest celestial body that humans have travelled to.
Next time, women
The Shenzhou-12 crew is to live on Tianhe, “Harmony of the Heavens”, a cylinder 16.6 metres long and 4.2 metres in diameter.
Tianhe is the first module that will eventually form China’s own three-module space station, which it began building in April.
The planned three-month stay would break the country’s record of 30 days, set by the 2016 mission — China’s last crewed flight — of Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng to a prototype station.
Three men from China’s first and second batches of astronauts will be on this mission, Yang Liwei, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office and China’s first astronaut, told state tabloid Global Times last month.
China’s space bloggers speculate they will be Nie Haisheng — who at 56 would be China’s oldest astronaut sent into space — Deng Qingming, 55, and Ye Guangfu, 40.
The authorities typically do not announce a mission’s crew until near or after the launch.
China Manned Space did not respond to a Reuters fax request for comment.
While no women are scheduled for the Shenzhou-12 mission, they are expected to participate in every following mission, Yang told Global Times.
Two women, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, were selected in 2011 among China’s second cohort, after the first batch of 14 men in the mid-1990s. Liu was China’s first woman in space in 2012, while Wang was the youngest, at 33, in 2013.
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