Chinese astronauts ready for in-orbit space station construction

Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo, the first Chinese astronauts to live and work in the country’s space station currently under construction, made their public debut as a crew on Wednesday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The trio will carry out the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceflight mission, and Nie will be the commander, Ji Qiming, assistant to the director of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), announced earlier on Wednesday.

The Shenzhou-12 spaceship is expected to be launched on Thursday morning from the launch center in northwest China. It will later dock with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with Tianhe and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2. The astronauts will then be stationed in the core module and remain in orbit for three months.

This will be the first manned mission during the construction of China’s space station, with aims to conduct in-orbit verification of technologies concerning the astronauts’ long-term stay and health care, recycling and life support system, supply of space materials, extravehicular activities and operations, as well as in-orbit maintenance, Ji said.

Nie, the most experienced among the three, was in the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005 and the Shenzhou-10 mission in 2013.

It will be Liu’s second spaceflight, as he once participated in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, which featured a landmark spacewalk.

Tang will be a newcomer to space. He became a member of the second batch of Chinese astronauts in 2010.

Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu will be the backup crew, Ji said.

China launched Tianhe on April 29 and Tianzhou-2 on May 29. The two completed a computer-orchestrated rendezvous and docking on May 30, waiting for the first crewed mission to unpack the cargo.


“We are honored to take the lead in a series of manned missions for the space station construction, and we have many expectations,” Nie said at a press conference held at Wentiange, or “Ask-the-Sky Pavilion”, at the launch center on Wednesday.

Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng (C), Liu Boming (R) and Tang Hongbo meet the press at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, June 16, 2021. PHOTO / XINHUA

“Our upcoming mission will take longer than before. We will not only make the core module a ‘space home,’ but also carry out a series of key technology verifications. There will be more arduous tasks and more challenges.”

“Every stride we take will represent the courage and persistence of mankind in exploring space, and contribute Chinese wisdom and strength to the peaceful use of outer space,” he added.

It has been 13 years since Liu participated in the Shenzhou-7 mission. He has been dedicated to training and maintained high expectations for his new mission.

“We have carried out strict, systematic and comprehensive training to ensure each extravehicular activity is completed well, especially under the protection of the new-generation extravehicular spacesuit,” Liu said.

Tang acknowledged that pressure is inevitable since it will be his first spaceflight mission. “But I believe that pressure builds up motivation and confidence guarantees success. After 11 years of learning, training and testing, I am full of confidence in myself and our team,” Tang said.

He said he hopes to meet and work with astronauts from other countries in the space station in the future.

Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo carry out training on April 22, 2021. PHOTO / XINHUA


The Shenzhou-12 astronauts are expected to set a new record for China’s manned space mission duration and their work is also more complicated and challenging than previous crewed missions, said CMSA director Hao Chun.

According to Ji, in the Shenzhou-12 mission, the crew will complete four major tasks in orbit.

First, they will operate and manage the complex, including the in-orbit test of the Tianhe module, verification of the recycling and life support system, testing and operation training of the robotic arm, as well as management of materials and waste.

Second, they will move, assemble and test extravehicular spacesuits and perform two extravehicular activities for work including assembling an extravehicular toolbox, lifting the panoramic camera and installing extended pump sets.

Third, they will carry out space science experiments and technology experiments, as well as public outreach activities.

Fourth, they will manage their own health through daily life care, physical exercise, and regular monitoring and assessment of their own health status.

The astronauts have all carried out solid ground training and mission preparation under comprehensive training programs and plans, Ji said.


The Tianhe module will provide the astronauts three times as much space as what was available in the Tiangong-2 space lab, with three independent bedrooms and one bathroom.

Meanwhile, the astronauts can choose from more than 120 kinds of space food that not only taste good but provide balanced nutrition with a long shelf-life.

The dining area is equipped with food heating device, refrigerator, water dispenser and folding table. In the exercise area, the treadmill and spin bike provide them exercise to maintain physical health.

The two-way video communication and e-mails between the station and ground control will be realized through the space communication link and video communication equipment.

Compared with previous crewed missions, the core module of the space station is, for the first time, equipped with a life support system, including subsystems for electrolytic oxygen generation, condensate water collection and treatment, urine treatment, carbon dioxide removal, and the removal of trace amounts of harmful gas to ensure the long-term in-orbit stay of astronauts, Ji said.


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