Wed, September 24, 2008
Sci-Tech > Science

Taikonauts aboard China's spacecraft Shenzhou-7 debut

2008-09-24 12:47:12 GMT2008-09-24 20:47:12 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English

A man taks a photo of Chinese taikonauts (L-R) Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming during a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Sept. 24, 2008. The Shenzhou-7 spaceship will carry the three taikonauts, all aged 42, for China's third manned space mission that will include the country's first-ever space walk.(Xinhua Photo)

Chinese taikonauts (L-R) Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming wave during a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Sept. 24, 2008. The Shenzhou-7 spaceship will carry the three taikonauts, all aged 42, for China's third manned space mission that will include the country's first-ever space walk.(Xinhua Photo)

Chinese taikonauts (Front,L-R) Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming attend a departure ceremony in Beijing, Sept. 24, 2008. The Shenzhou-7 spaceship will carry the three taikonauts, all aged 42, for China's third manned space mission that will include the country's first-ever space walk. (Xinhua Photo)

JIUQUAN, Gansu, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Shenzhou-7 spaceship will carry Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, all aged 42,for China's third manned space mission that will feature China's "first step in the space."

The trio taikonauts met a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province of northwestern China, before attempting China's first-ever space walk.

The Shenzhou-7 spaceship is due to blast off on a Long March II-F rocket on Thursday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province of northwestern China. The launch window was set between 9:07 p.m. to 10:27 p.m. (Beijing Time).

The press conference did not reveal which two of the three-man crew would carry out the country's first extravehicular activities.

"The Shenzhou-7 mission marks a historic breakthrough in China's manned space program. It is a great honor for all three of us to fly the mission, and we are fully prepared for the challenge," Zhai Zhigang told the press conference.

"I have been included in the final training for three times during the Shenzhou 5, 6 and 7 missions," he said, "I am looking forward to working with my colleagues from overseas in the future."

Liu Boming said ten years of working, studying and training together has contributed to the smooth cooperation among the trio.

According to Liu, only one taikonaut will perform the space walk assisted by a second taikonaut in the orbit module. The third astronaut will remain in the re-entry module during the whole process of the space walk.

"We will support and cooperate with each other during the mission to make sure it ends with a success," he said.

Jing Haipeng also said the trio are confident, and capable of making "Chinese astronauts' first step in the space."

"The taikonauts have made every preparation for the mission. What they need the most tonight is a good night sleep," said Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the astronaut system under China's manned space program.

The pilots were chosen from the first group of fourteen Chinese astronauts selected in 1998 based on their physical and psychological conditions as well as their technical skills, according to Zhang Jianqi, deputy chief commander of the Shenzhou-7 mission.

"All the 14 taikonauts were graded on a daily basis on every single movement during their training," said Zhang.

"The top six candidates were picked for the final training for Shenzhou-7 mission. They were then divided into two teams with the top three forming the first trio," he said.

Following is a brief intro to the trio.

-- Zhai Zhigang was born in Longjiang County, Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province. Zhai enrolled at the People's Liberation Army Air Force Aviation Institute and studied to be a fighter pilot. In his service as a PLAAF fighter pilot he had accumulated 950 hours of safe flight time.

He was one of three astronauts who were part of the final group to train for the Shenzhou 5 flight in 2003. Yang Liwei was picked for the flight, with Zhai Zhigang ranked second ahead of Nie Haisheng. Zhai was also one of the six astronauts in the final training for Shenzhou 6 mission in 2005 during which Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng flew the flight.

-- Jing Haipeng was born in Yuncheng city, Shanxi Province. Jing joined the People's Liberation Army in 1985 and has clocked 1,200 hours of safe flight time. Jing was among the six trainees in for the Shenzhou 6 mission in 2005.

-- Liu Boming was born in Yi'an county, Heilongjiang province. Liu joined the People's Liberation Army in 1985 and has clocked 1,050 hours of safe flight time. Liu was also one of the six astronauts in the final training for Shenzhou 6 mission in 2005.

A second trio of taikonauts including Chen Quan, Nie Haisheng, and Fei Junlong will be on standby in case of last-minute problems with the first crew before the launch. Nie and Fei flew on China's second manned space flight in October 2005 for a five-day mission.

(Reporting by Xu Zhuangzhi, Lin Jianyang, Li Xuanliang, Gong Linmeng in Jiuquan, and Bai Ruixue in Beijing, Writing by Wang Cong)

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