China starts search for new group of astronauts

People from Hong Kong, Macao able to take part for first time.


Shenzhou XIV astronauts Chen Dong (center), Liu Yang (right) and Cai Xuzhe salute after entering the Wentian module, the first lab module of China's space station. [Photo by Xu Bu/For China Daily]

October 3, 2022

BEIJING – People from Hong Kong, Macao able to take part for first time, says space agency

China has recently started its search for the country’s fourth generation of astronauts, and, for the first time, this will include people from Hong Kong and Macao, the China Manned Space Agency said.

The agency said in a news release on Sunday afternoon that experts will select 12 to 14 candidates for the new generation. Among them, there will be seven to eight spacecraft pilots, three to four spaceflight engineers and two payload specialists.

The pilots will be chosen from among aviators currently serving in the People’s Liberation Army. The engineers will be selected from among researchers and technicians in aerospace or related industries, and the payload specialists will be chosen from among scientists working in the space science and technology field.

The recruitment and selection processes are scheduled to be completed within 18 months, the agency said, noting that the payload specialist posts are open to people from the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions.

Pang Zhihao, a renowned observer of manned spaceflights, said that many researchers in Hong Kong and Macao focus on space science. An opportunity to participate in a spaceflight will tremendously foster their research and expand their understanding, he added.

“The presence of researchers from Hong Kong and Macao in space will definitely encourage more youngsters there to take part in space exploration and scientific studies,” Pang said.

Various Hong Kong government officials welcomed this unprecedented move to include specialists from the city in the astronaut selection process.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu described it as “inspiring news full of historic significance”.

The city’s initial selection process will run from Thursday to Oct 27, Hong Kong government officials said at a news conference on Sunday evening. The candidates will mainly be selected from local universities, government departments, research institutions, and scientific enterprises and organizations.

As construction of China’s space station gradually progresses, the country needs fresh talent to carry out this ambitious endeavor.

Currently, the Astronaut Center of China in Beijing is training the third group of Chinese astronauts.

The 18 new astronauts — 17 men and one woman — are in three groups: seven spacecraft pilots, seven spaceflight engineers and four payload specialists. They are undergoing systematic training before being certified for space missions.

About 2,500 applicants took part in the selection for the third generation team from May 2018 to September 2020, which involved three rounds of tests.

Before the third group, China had 21 astronauts from its first two generations. Among them, 14 took part in nine flight missions, including Shenzhou XIV, which is the latest. Several in the first generation who had not taken part in any spaceflights during their service have already retired.

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