BEIJING - China's space authorities added seven new members to its astronaut crew on Friday, with two women included for the first time.
As usual, the names of the second batch of astronauts were not disclosed. However, space authorities did reveal in a press release that they are all aged 30 to 35, married and have college diplomas.
The five men are fighter pilots, while the two women fly transport aircraft for the Chinese air force. On average, they have 1,270 hours of flight time each. All of the astronauts are strong physically and psychologically, the release said.
"China is expected to test its docking technology in the next few years and the seven new astronauts are selected for these new tasks," said Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Center of China.
China is expected to launch an unmanned space module - Tiangong 1 - in the first half of 2011, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will be launched in the second half of 2011 to carry out the nation's first space docking, followed by the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10, which will be launched in 2012 to dock with Tiangong 1.
The seven new additions are expected to replace some of the first batch of 14 astronauts, maintaining the "moderate scale" of China's crew, said Chen.
The two women will likely be trained to become pilots of the spacecraft, he said, without specifying the time.
Sui Guosheng, the air force officer in charge of recruitment, told Guangzhou-based Nanfang Weekly last July that those chosen to join the astronaut program will undergo between two and three years of training, and the first female astronaut could complete her journey into space by 2012.
China started to select its astronauts in 1998. Yang Liwei was the first and made history when he voyaged beyond the planet's atmosphere for 21 hours aboard the Shenzhou 5 in 2003.
After Yang, five other astronauts made it to space on missions in 2005 and 2008. Among them, Zhai Zhigang made China's first outer space walk aboard the Shenzhou 7 in September 2008.