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Astronauts being prepped as space station nears

01-18-2011 09:55 BJT

A research project to train astronauts and study their ability to endure space missions has been launched as the country gears up for the launching of two unmanned space modules later this year, aimed at future space dockings.

The research looks into the impact of prolonged stays of astronauts in conditions of zero gravity, rapid day and night shifts, and limited living quarters, so as to guarantee their safety, health and work efficiency in space, the People's Liberation Army Daily reported Monday.

Scheduled to take place until 2015, the project is being jointly carried out by eight Chinese research institutes of aerospace sciences and life sciences. It will play a crucial role in the building of a manned space station, and in promoting scientific progress and breakthroughs in related fields, the report said.

Pang Zhihao, a researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, told the Global Times that the program marks a milestone in the nation's training of aerospace talent.

"To live and work in a space station long-term poses great physical and psychological challenges to astronauts. It's important to study the impact on the astronauts and train them to master basic techniques such as space walking and the assembly and maintenance of space equipment," he said, adding that the scale of the program is much smaller than that of the US.

China formally announced its manned space station program in October and said it planned to complete construction of a "relatively large" manned space laboratory by 2020. Two batches of astronauts were recruited, with women finally being included, to operate the space station.

The space station program is planned to be completed in three parts. They are composed of first developing Shenzhou spaceships and then technologies needed for docking and extra-vehicular activities, parts that are currently underway, and finally construction of the space station itself.

China has sent six astronauts into space since 2003. Yang Liwei was the first Chinese to voyage beyond the planet's atmosphere for 21 hours in Shenzhou-5 in 2003, and Zhai Zhigang was the first Chinese to walk in outer space in 2008, paving the way for the country's next space mission.

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