Beijing is counting on its first equipped mission in nearly five years amid a new space race.
China will send three men into space Thursday on its first equipped mission in nearly five years, part of an ambitious plan to complete a space station by the end of next year.
China is scheduled to launch the Shenzhou-12 at 9:22 am (01:22 GMT) Thursday from Jiuquan in northwestern Gansu province, an official from the Manipulated Space Agency in China said Wednesday.
The astronauts are Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, Ji Qiming, assistant director at China’s Manipulated Space Agency, told reporters. Nie will be the oldest person China has sent into space.
Shenzhou-12, which means “Divine Ship,” will be the third of 11 missions needed to complete China’s space station by 2022.
At least four of the 11 planned missions will be deployed, possibly putting up to 12 Chinese astronauts into space.
China began construction of the space station this year with the launch of Tianhe – the first and largest of the station’s three modules – in late April.
The Shenzhou-12 crew will camp on the Tianhe, meaning “Harmony of Heaven”, a cylinder 16.6 meters (55 feet) long and 4.2 meters (14 feet) in diameter, for three months.
The oldest Chinese astronaut to lead the mission
Nie, who comes from Hubei Central Province and is a former Air Force pilot, will lead the mission.
Shenzhou-12 will be Nie’s third space exit, after the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005 and the Shenzhou-10 mission in 2013, according to Xinhua news agency.
It will be Liu’s second space mission, his first will be the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, which featured a space launch of primacy. It will be Tang’s first trip into space.
There are also three rescue astronauts for the mission.
China’s last flight mission was in 2016 when two men – Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng – were sent via Shenzhou-11 to Tiangong-2, a prototype of the space station where they were after a month .
While women are not scheduled for the Shenzhou-12 mission, they are expected to participate in each subsequent mission, according to the Global Times.
Two women, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, were selected in 2011 from China’s second-largest group of astronauts, 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.
Chinese astronauts have had a relatively low international profile.
A U.S. law banning NASA from any connection to China means its astronauts have not been on the International Space Station for more than two decades, visited by more than 240 men and women of various nationalities.
China is accelerating its space program to compete with the West, including the United States.
Beijing’s goal is for the country to become a major space power by 2030, transforming space into the newest frontier of its rivalry with the United States.
In May, it became the second country to put a rover on Mars, two years after the landing of the first spacecraft from the far side of the moon.