China will launch the three astronauts of the Shenzhou XV mission to the space station on Tuesday night, according to a program official.
Ji Qiming, assistant director of the China Manned Space Agency, said at a news conference on Monday morning at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China that the crew members - Major General Fei Junlong, Senior Colonel Deng Qingming and Senior Colonel Zhang Lu - are scheduled to ride on board the Shenzhou XV spacecraft that will be lifted by a Long March 2F carrier rocket at 11:08 pm from the Jiuquan center in the barren Gobi Desert.
The rocket will soon be filled with propellants at the service tower, according to the official.
The Shenzhou XV crew is to stay inside the Tiangong space station for six months and is scheduled to return to Earth in May. They will carry out three to four spacewalks during the mission to mount equipment outside the station, he said.
Their major tasks include unlocking, installing and testing 15 scientific cabinets; conducting more than 40 scientific experiments and technological demonstrations; and carrying out six cargo orbital deployment operations, Ji said.
Fei's team will make the first in-orbit shift with the three Shenzhou XIV crew members, who have been orbiting the mother planet for nearly six months. The Shenzhou XIV astronauts are expected to fly back to a landing site in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region within a week following the Shenzhou XV's arrival, the official noted.
Ji also said that several nations have proposed to China that they wish to send their astronauts to the Tiangong space station. China is negotiating with relevant parties on this matter and is actively preparing training work for foreign astronauts, he added.
Currently, the Tiangong station consists of the Tianhe core module, the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, the Shenzhou XIV spacecraft as well as the recently arrived Tianzhou 5 cargo ship.
With an overall weight of nearly 100 metric tons, Tiangong is one of the largest space-based infrastructure mankind has ever built and deployed in outer space. It is expected to operate in a low-Earth orbit about 400 kilometers above the ground for about 10 years and will be open to foreign astronauts in the near future, space officials have said.
Astronaut's dream realized after 25 years
Senior Colonel Deng Qingming, 56, said that he never lost sight of his "space dream" while waiting, training and preparing for almost a quarter of a century to take part in a space mission.
Speaking with Chinese reporters at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gobi Desert, Deng, the last serving member of China's first group of astronauts to take part in a spaceflight, said that he never doubted his choice or considered quitting.
Deng said that he had "quietly prepared" throughout his life for an opportunity to take part in a mission, adding, "I didn't allow myself to be unprepared in case that, one day, I would be called up.
"When I was told that I had been chosen for the Shenzhou XV mission, I was pretty calm. What I was thinking about at that time was that I must cherish this opportunity and train harder to honor their trust and my commitment."
Deng said his gratitude goes to a lot of people, especially the scientists, engineers and other workers in China's space industry, because it had been those people who worked hard to send astronauts like him to space.
Deng's story has become a hit on Chinese social media as microbloggers posted media reports to salute the veteran astronaut, a founding member of the People's Liberation Army Astronaut Division.
After the news about Deng being selected as a member of the Shenzhou XV crew was published on Monday morning, many microbloggers congratulated him and said they were very happy that he could eventually realize his dream.
A Sina Weibo user who goes by the name Yang Haocheng wrote: "I will definitely wait in front of the television to witness the realization of Deng's flight dream. My best wishes to Deng and his Shenzhou XV flight. Stories like Deng's have earned our highest respect and gratitude."
Another user, zuonizijiya 3, wrote: "I was so moved to learn that Deng was finally selected. I clearly remember that I cried in front of my classmates several years ago when we watched Deng telling his story on a TV program".
Source: Xinhua News Agency
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