China Makes History Sending First Civilian Astronaut to Space

China Makes History Sending First Civilian Astronaut to Space

China on May 30 achieved a historic milestone in its space program by sending its first civilian astronaut to space. Gui Haichao, a professor at the Beihang University in Beijing regarded as a payload specialist, joined two military astronauts on the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft that blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China at 9:31 a.m. local time.

All previous Chinese astronauts have been members of the People’s Liberation Army. The other two are mission’s commander Jing Haipeng, who is also making history by becoming the first Chinese astronaut to go into space for a record fourth time. Astronaut flight engineer Zhu Yangzhu is also making his first journey into space.

The three astronauts will dock with the Tiangong space station, where they will spend five months conducting experiments and maintenance.


Gui will operate payloads for space experiments, while Jing Haipeng, the mission commander, and Zhu Yangzhu, the spacecraft engineer, will operate and manage the spacecraft.

His selection for the crew has generated keen interest in China, not only for his civilian status, but also for his eyeglasses. He is the first Chinese astronaut to wear glasses in space. According to former astronaut Yang Liwei, who is now a top official in China’s manned space program, there are different criteria for different crew members as the division of labour on missions becomes more specialized.

Gui has undergone rigorous training for the mission, including desert field survival, sleep deprivation tests, centrifuge training and underwater drills. He has also published more than 100 papers on aerospace engineering and won several awards for his research.


The Shenzhou-16 will be the first crew mission after China’s space station programme entered the stage of application and development, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA. The mission is part of China’s ambitious plan to build a permanent presence in space and eventually send a crewed mission to the moon by 2030. China has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space program in a bid to catch up with the United States and Russia.


China built its own space station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns over the Chinese space program’s ties with the military.  Once ready, China will be the only country to own a space station as the International Space Station (ISS) of Russia is a collaborative project of several countries. The ISS station is also set to be decommissioned by 2030. The significant feature of China’s space station is its two robotic arms. The long one has the ability to grab objects, including satellites from space.


China has also achieved other feats in space exploration. They brought back lunar samples, landing a rover on the far side of the moon and sending a rover to Mars. China is also planning to land a spacecraft on an asteroid.


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