China will include civilians into the third group of taikonauts to serve its planned space station project, the country’s first astronaut Yang Liwei said here on Saturday. The new taikonauts could be selected from industrial sectors, research institutions and universities, said Yang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, on the sidelines of the first session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Currently, taikonauts — a blend of the Chinese word taikong which means outer space and astronaut — are all former Air Force pilots, Xinhua news agency reported. China selected its first group of 14 taikonauts in the late 1990s and the second group of seven in 2010. Of them, 11 had been sent to space in six spaceflights.
The new taikonauts will include not only pilots, but also maintenance engineers and payload specialists for the space station project. To build and operate its space station, China plans to increase manned space missions from once in every one to three years to at least twice a year, which require more taikonauts, said Yang.
The core module and a new carrier rocket for the space station project were also being developed, he said. China initiated the manned space programme in 1992 and successfully sent Yang into orbit with the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft in 2003.