Fei, who participated in the Shenzhou-6 manned flight mission 17 years ago, will serve as the commander on Shenzhou-15. Accompanying him will be two first-timers Deng and Zhang, according to Ji Qiming, spokesperson for the CMSA.
With the average age of 53, it seems that the Shenzhou-15 crew members are old. However, Fei said that “our flying skills remain young” as the three spent the past decade preparing for the space mission.
The Shenzhou-15 spaceship is scheduled to be launched at 11:08 p.m. Beijing Time on Tuesday.
The three Chinese astronauts will then remain in the space station for half a year, and briefly stay with the three Shenzhou-14 crew members, Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, who are preparing to head back to Earth.
For the first time, China’s manned space program will run two Shenzhou spacecraft concurrently, creating new challenges.
The Shenzhou-15 mission will be the last in the construction phase of China Space Station (CSS).
Born in May 1965, Fei Junlong joined China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force in 1982.
Fei, selected as a member of China’s first-generation astronauts in January 1998, made his space debut in 2005 on the Shenzhou-6 mission as the commander for five days.
With that experience, Fei was selected as the commander of the Shenzhou-15 mission and will stay in space for six months this time.
He told CGTN at a Monday press conference that his team was fully ready for the approaching mission and would complete the task with great success.
Fei also mentioned that, with the average age of 53, it seems that the Shenzhou-15 crew members are old. However, when compared to other crew members, “our flying skills remain young.”
Deng Qingming, born in March 1966, joined China’s PLA Air Force in 1984 and has served as a first-class pilot.
Deng was selected as member of China’s first-generation astronauts in January 1998, and he is the only one who has never been to space in the group.
Deng was a backup crew member for both the Shenzhou-10 and Shenzhou-11 missions. Five of his peers retired in 2014 without a space flight.
Shenzhou-15 will be Deng’s first space mission. He told reporters that he had prepared for the mission for 25 years and was looking forward to the trip.
“Twenty-five years is a long journey. For many times, I missed the chance to enter the space. Even though I felt disappointed, I never gave up,” said Deng, adding that “no matter how old I am, I am needed by the nation. I feel happy today.”
Zhang Lu, born in November 1976, was selected as member of China’s second-generation astronauts in May 2010. Zhang joined China’s PLA Air Force in 1996, and has served as a first-class pilot. Shenzhou-15 will also be Zhang’s first space mission, as he has been working to achieve the goal through 12-year of unremitting efforts. “The universe is mysterious and vast, and I have a lot of expectations for the life in the space. I’m looking forward to enjoy the zero-gravity in life and building and completing our home in the space,” Zhang told reporters, adding that the three of them are sharing the same hobbit of Chinese calligraphy, which features life philosophy.Zhang also said that he had prepared some secret gifts for the Shenzhou-14 crew members and won’t disclose until they meet in person.
With the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 spaceship, the CSS will be expanded to its largest configuration formed of three modules and three spaceships, with a total mass of nearly 100 tonnes, Ji said.
During their stay in orbit, the Shenzhou-15 taikonauts will witness the arrival of the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-16 manned spaceship. The team will also have a handover with the upcoming Shenzhou-16 crew in orbit.
China has 39 astronauts in its first, second and third generations. It started the selection process of the fourth batch of astronauts this September, for the first time, it is open to applicants from Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions. Between 12 and 14 candidates will be chosen, including seven or eight pilots. Engineers will also be selected as well as two payload experts.
In addition, astronauts from other countries are also welcome to conduct experiments in the CSS, Ji said, adding that many countries have applied to send astronauts to participate in spaceflight missions to the CSS, and the CMSA is coordinating with relevant countries on it.
This article is originally published at cgtn.com