November 29, 2022
BEIJING – After serving as a backup crew member for 24 years, Chinese taikonaut Deng Qingming’s dream is finally coming true – he will perform his first space mission onboard the Shenzhou XV spaceship along with two other astronauts on Tuesday.
Deng is the last one of the country’s first group of 14 astronauts to be sent into space.
The name of Deng, 56 years old, was not known by many people until China launched the Shenzhou XIII spaceship in October last year. The story of the veteran who relentlessly pursued his space dream despite serving as a backup for years moved many, and for which he was hailed as a “hidden hero”.
Born in a farming family in East China’s Jiangxi province, Deng has four younger brothers and sisters. As a diligent student, Deng joined the PLA Air Force in June 1984 and started training as a pilot at a flight college in Hebei province.
After graduating in November 1987, the young pilot was assigned to a fighter jet regiment in Jilin province.
In 1996, Deng began to take part in the PLA Air Force’s selection of astronaut candidates and was finally selected with another 13 aviators. The 14 pilots became the first members of the PLA Astronaut Division in January 1998.
In the following years, Deng dedicated almost all of his time to training and has spared no efforts to strive for an opportunity to fly into space. He was a backup crew member for the Shenzhou IX, X and XI, XIII missions.
“Being a backup doesn’t mean you don’t need to work. I must watch closely in the control center and offer all I know about the mission and the spacecraft in case of emergency,” Deng said during a previous interview. “Only when the crew returns to Earth will my mission be complete”.
When training for Shenzhou XI mission, which was carried out in 2016, Deng was confined in a spacecraft simulator no bigger than 10 square meters for 33 days. They had no showers and endured loud noise and piercing light as they tried to sleep.
No matter how difficult the road to space flight is, Deng never once thought of giving up. He was awarded the title “Role Model of the Times” by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee in 2018.
“Be it a crew or a backup, it is the job. And the success of the mission comes before my personal wishes,” Deng once said.