3 three-man crew of astronauts will launch in June for a three-month mission on China’s new space station
Yang Liwei, the manned space program’s deputy chief designer, made the remarks to state media as an automated spacecraft carrying fuel and supplies for the Tianhe station was launched.
China’s highly ambitious space program has launched the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, its third and largest space station. The core module of the spacecraft was launched into orbit on April 29.
Yang said in comments carried on China Central Television on Saturday that the Shenzhou 12 capsule containing the crew will be launched from the Jiuquan station in China’s northwest next month.
Yang, who orbited the Earth in 2003, did not reveal the astronauts’ identities or a flight date, but did say the crew will be from from the program’s two initial batches of astronauts.
“On Shenzhou 12, we don’t have them,” Yang added, “but missions after that will all have them.”
According to the space program, the Tianzhou-2 spacecraft docked with Tianhe on Sunday with 6.8 tons of cargo, including space suits, food, and equipment for the astronauts, as well as fuel for the station.
The space agency expects 11 missions between now and the end of next year to bring two more modules, supplies, and people to the 70-ton station.
Because of US opposition, Beijing does not participate in the International Space Station. Washington is concerned about the Chinese program’s secrecy and military ties.
Since Yang’s trip in October 2003, China has sent 11 astronauts into space, including two women. In 2012, Liu Yang became the first female astronaut.
To date, all of China’s astronauts have been pilots from the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.
According to Yang, astronauts aboard the Tianhe would practice spacewalks with two individuals outside the hull at the same time. Zhai Zhigang performed China’s first spacewalk outside the Shenzhou 7 module in 2008.
The Chinese space agency also landed a probe, the Tianwen-1, on Mars this month, carrying a rover, the Zhurong.