Beijing is counting down for the first manned mission in nearly five years amid the new space race.
China will send three men into space on Thursday in its first manned mission in nearly five years, as part of an ambitious plan to complete a space station by the end of next year.
China is expected to launch the Shenzhou-12 On Thursday, at 9:22 am (01:22 GMT) from Jiuquan, northwestern Gansu Province, an official from China’s Manned Space Agency said on Wednesday.
The astronauts are Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, told reporters Ji Qiming, assistant director of China’s Manned Space Agency. Nie will be the oldest person China has sent into space.
Shenzhou-12, meaning “divine ship,” will be the third of 11 missions needed to complete the Chinese space station in 2022.
At least four of the 11 planned missions will be manned, putting up to 12 Chinese astronauts into space.
China began construction of the space station this year with the launch of Tianhe, the first and largest of the station’s three modules, in late April.
The Shenzhou-12 crew will live in the Tianhe, meaning “Harmony of the heavens”, a cylinder 16.6 meters (55 feet) long and 4.2 meters (14 feet) in diameter, for three months.
The oldest Chinese astronaut to lead the mission
Nie, who comes from the center of Hubei Province and is a former Air Force pilot, will lead the mission.
Shenzhou-12 will be Nie’s third space launch, after the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005 and the Shenzhou-10 mission in 2013, according to Xinhua news agency.
It will be Liu’s second space mission, the first of which will be the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, which featured a reference spacewalk. It will be Tang’s first trip into space.
There are also three security astronauts for the mission.
China’s last manned flight mission was in 2016, when two men – Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng – were sent via the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to Tiangong-2, a prototype of the space station where later they remained about a month.
Although no women are scheduled for the Shenzhou-12 mission, they are expected to participate in all subsequent missions, according to the Global Times.
Two women, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, were selected in 2011 from China’s second group of astronauts, after the first batch of 14 men in the mid-1990s. Liu was China’s first woman in space in 2012, while Wang was the youngest, at 33, in 2013.
Chinese astronauts have had a relatively low international profile.
A U.S. law banning NASA from any connection to China means its astronauts have not been on the international space station for more than two decades, which have been visited by more than 240 men and women of various nationalities.
China has accelerated its space program to compete with the West, including the United States.
Beijing’s goal is for the country to become a major space power by 2030, making space the newest frontier of its rivalry with the US.
In May, it became the second country to put a rover on Mars, two years after the first spacecraft landed at the far end of the moon.