China selects 18 more astronauts for its manned space station Tiangong

The China Manned Space Agency announced on October 1 that it has selected a third group of astronauts for its planned manned space station–Tiangong, Space.com reports. Tiangong is China’s largest attempt at occupying orbit, also being the largest single-country attempt at building a space station. Though there have been other space stations (other than the ISS) built by Russia and the United States, it is expected that Tiangong will be a much larger project.

Image: China Manned Space Engineering

The selected 18 new astronauts comprise of 17 men and 1 woman. Within the new selection, seven were chosen from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (to become spacecraft pilots), seven will become spaceflight engineers, and the others are mission specialists. Before, China had 21 astronauts that were selected from two recruiting rounds. 11 of those 21 have already flown in space missions.

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The space station that China is building will be very similar to the current International Space Station—just on a smaller scale. It will comprise of multiple modules that are launched separately and connected together in orbit. The core module will be launched aboard the country’s Long March 5B launch vehicle, with other components and astronauts to follow in consecutive launches. Once aboard the core module, the astronauts will begin assembling the station.

Tiangong is planned to have two other space lab modules connected to the core module. In total, the space station will weight more than 99 tons, or 90 metric tons, according to CNSA. The Chinese say that the station will begin operations in 2022 with an operating lifespan of 15 years.

Just a day prior to the announcement from China, a task force comprising of 15 Republican congresspeople representing 11 committees in the U.S. House of Representatives released a 141-page document with plans to counter China’s attempt at conquering space with the Tiangong space station.

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“If the PRC [People’s Republic of China] succeeds in its efforts to launch its first long-term space station module in 2022, it will have matched the U.S.’ nearly 40-year progression from first human spaceflight to first space station module in less than 20 years,” the task force details. “The CCP is vocal about plans to establish a human base on the moon. The U.S. should be concerned about the technological innovations and leadership role for the CCP that could come from missions crewed by PRC-nationals to the moon.”

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