Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China, Oct 15 (EFE).- China on Friday was finalizing preparations for the launch of the Shenzhou-XIII spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the Tiangong space station, where they will stay for six months.
The launch is scheduled to take place at 12:23 am on Saturday.
Astronauts will continue the construction of the space station, which Beijing expects to have operational by the end of next year.
The deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, Lin Xiqian, revealed the identity of the three astronauts at a press conference on Thursday: Zhai Zhigang, 55, Ye Guangfu, 41, and a woman, Wang Yaping, also 41.
Zhai traveled to space in 2008 aboard the Shenzhou VII and Wang was part of the Shenzhou X mission in 2013.
It will be Ye Guangfu’s first trip to space.
These “Taikonauts,” as Chinese astronauts are called, will spend six months at China’s permanent space station – named Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace – twice the time spent by the previous crew, who returned to Earth last month.
If all goes well, this will be the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts.
However, according to Lin, stays of six months will be “common” in future missions so one of the objectives of this mission is to test the astronauts and the facilities’ capacity for such long stays.
Lin said the crew will perform “two to three” spacewalks to install a small robotic arm onto a larger one and conduct scientific experiments in fields, including space medicine and microgravity physics.
At a Thursday press conference, Wang announced she would give a lecture during the mission, as she did on her previous trip to space to some 60 million Chinese students in schools across the country.
Also, if Wang completes one of the spacewalks, she would be the first Chinese woman to do so.
The Tiangong will weigh about 70 metric tons and is expected to operate for 15 years, orbiting about 400 kilometers (248 miles) above the Earth’s surface. EFE