On Thursday, China’s latest space mission commenced with the launch of Shenzhou-17, carrying a record-setting crew, including former Air Force pilot Tang Hongbo, on a groundbreaking journey to their space station, marking a significant step in China’s space program.
Upon his return to the orbiting Tiangong, which or “Celestial Palace” in Chinese, Tang Hongbo set a remarkable record for the briefest span between two spaceflight missions by Chinese astronauts. This quick succession signifies a potential accelerated rotation of future taikonauts, exemplifying the nation’s intensified focus on space exploration. After joining China’s second batch of astronauts in 2010, Tang patiently awaited his turn for over a decade before his selection for the inaugural spaceflight in 2021.
In contrast, fellow Shenzhou-17 crew members Tang Shengjie, aged 33, and Jiang Xinlin, aged 35, embarked on their inaugural space journey, having been selected as part of China’s third batch of astronauts in September 2020.
Looking forward, China has initiated the process of selecting candidates for its fourth batch of astronauts. The criteria involve seeking individuals with doctoral degrees encompassing diverse disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry, biomedical engineering, and astronomy, highlighting the nation’s comprehensive approach to astronaut recruitment for future space missions.
Furthermore, China is expanding the opportunity to include applicants from Hong Kong and Macau for the very first time, emphasizing a broader approach to astronaut selection.
In earlier selections, the first and second batches of astronauts predominantly comprised former Air Force pilots, similar to Tang Hongbo, who commenced his military career by joining the People’s Liberation Army at the age of 20 in 1995.