China's first civilian astronaut makes history

Gui Haichao, the first Chinese civilian on a spaceflight, reached orbit on Tuesday morning shortly after the spacecraft carrying him and another two Shenzhou XVI mission astronauts lifted off from northwestern China.
Sitting inside the Shenzhou XVI spacecraft, Gui and his commander Major General Jing Haipeng and fellow astronaut Colonel Zhu Yangzhu were launched by a 20-story-tall Long March 2F carrier rocket that blasted off at 9:31 am at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gobi Desert.
After a short flight, the spaceship was placed into a low-Earth orbit about 400 kilometers above the planet.
Within hours of the launch, the eight-metric-ton manned craft is due to approach and dock with the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station.
The crew will then move into the Tiangong to meet their peers from the Shenzhou XV mission — commander Major General Fei Junlong, Senior Colonel Deng Qingming and Senior Colonel Zhang Lu — who arrived on Nov 30. The newly arrived crew will then take over the massive orbital outpost, one of the world's largest and most advanced spacecraft, from Fei's team, which will return to Earth in coming days as per schedule.
The Shenzhou XVI crew members will stay inside the Tiangong space station for around five months and are scheduled to return in November. They will carry out several spacewalks during the mission to mount equipment outside the station and also conduct maintenance work, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, said at a news conference on Monday.
Other major tasks include assisting with the docking and departure of visiting spacecraft such as cargo ships and a space-based telescope, conducting scientific experiments and demonstrations of technology, and hosting science lectures, Lin said.
The journey is the maiden flight of China's third generation of astronauts, and the first time a Chinese civilian has traveled to space.
Jing and Zhu are members of the People's Liberation Army's Astronaut Division, while Gui is a doctoral supervisor at the Department of Spacecraft and Launch Vehicle Technology of Beihang University's School of Astronautics in Beijing. All three crew members each have a doctorate.
Until the latest mission, all Chinese astronauts who have taken part in spaceflights have been military personnel. The first two generations of astronauts were selected from experienced Air Force aviators.
The third generation of astronauts, which was grouped around October 2020, includes civilians. It is comprised of 17 men and one woman split into three groups: seven spacecraft pilots; seven spaceflight engineers; and four science payload specialists.
Zhu, the spaceflight engineer in the team, and Gui, the mission's science payloads specialist, are the first members of the third-generation astronauts to enter the space.
Moreover, it is Jing's fourth spaceflight, making him China's most experienced astronaut.
Before the arrival of Shenzhou XVI spacecraft, the Tiangong currently consists of three major components, the Tianhe core module and Wentian and Mengtian science lab modules, and it was also connected to two visiting craft, the Shenzhou XV crew ship and the Tianzhou 6 cargo ship.


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