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China sends first civilian astronaut into space | Space News

Payload expert Gui Haichao will depart for the Tiangong space station on Tuesday as part of a three-person mission.

China will launch its first civilian astronaut into space on Tuesday as part of a crewed mission to the Tiangong space station, officials said.

Payload expert Gui Haichao will take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China at 9:31 a.m. local time (01:31 GMT) on Tuesday, the China Manned Space Administration said on Monday.

To date, all Chinese astronauts sent into space have been members of the People’s Liberation Army.

A space agency spokesman told reporters that Gui Minhai is a professor at Beihang University and will be “mainly responsible for the on-orbit operation of space science experimental payloads.”

The commander of Tuesday’s mission was Jing Haipeng, his fourth time in space, while the third crew member was engineer Zhu Yangzhu, state media reported.

China, which plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2030, has invested billions of dollars in its military space program in an attempt to catch up with the United States and Russia after years of lagging behind the milestone.

Last year, it completed construction of its third and permanent space station, Tiangong. The final module of the T-shaped palace – whose name means “heavenly palace” – was successfully docked with the core structure in November.

The station is equipped with cutting-edge scientific equipment, including “the world’s first space-cooled atomic clock system,” according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

Tiangong is expected to stay in low-Earth orbit 400 to 450 kilometers (250 to 280 miles) above Earth for at least 10 years — fulfilling the ambition of a long-term human presence in space.

It will work continuously with a rotating team of three astronauts who will conduct science experiments and help test new technologies.

While China does not intend to use Tiangong for global cooperation on the scale of the International Space Station, Beijing has indicated that it is open to foreign cooperation.

It’s unclear how wide the collaboration will be.

China has been effectively excluded from the International Space Station since the United States banned NASA from contacting China in 2011.

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