Some Details About China's Newest Astronauts Revealed
Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang waves from outside his Shenzhou 7 spacecraft September 27, 2008. He became his country's first spacewalker.
Credit: China National Space Administration

China has announced new details surrounding the lives of its seven newest astronauts, a group that includes the country's first two female spaceflyers, according to state media reports.

All seven of the new Chinese astronauts are pilots in China's People's Liberation Army. They are all married and between the ages of 30 and 35, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The details were announced last week during a meeting of the General Armament Department at Beijing Aerospace City, Xinhua said.

According to the report, which did not include the names of the new astronauts, China's new spaceflyers all have bachelor degrees from college and have each logged an average of 1,270.7 flight-hours, a spokesperson for the General Armament Department said.

The new astronaut recruits are split between fighter pilots (the men) and military transport pilots (the women). Earlier this year, Chinese space officials said that one requirement for China's first female astronauts was that they were married, a requirement that is also upheld for China's male astronaut candidates.

The new astronauts possess skills in clinical and space medicine, and have "good psychological qualities," Xinhua reported the spokesperson as saying. Many of them volunteered for quake relief work during the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the eastern Sichuan region of China on May 12, 2008, the spokesperson added.

Spaceflight training for the seven new astronaut recruits is expected to begin soon.

The new astronauts are the latest to join China's ranks of spaceflyers, which are also known as taikonauts. To date, China has 21 active astronauts.

The China National Space Administration began recruiting astronauts in the mid-1990s. The first class included 14 fighter pilots.

China is the third nation after Russia and the United States to build and launch spacecraft capable of flying humans in space.

China's crewed spacecraft is the capsule-based Shenzhou (Chinese for "Divine Vessel). The vehicle is a three-module spacecraft derived from Russia's Soyuz workhorse craft, but carries several Chinese-developed enhancements.

Those modifications include the addition of a second set of solar arrays on the Shenzhou vehicle's orbital module which allow the segment to remain in orbit long after its crew returns to Earth in a descent module.

China's first manned spaceflight, Shenzhou 5, launched a single astronaut into orbit in 2003. A two-man mission followed in 2005.

In September 2008, three Chinese astronauts launched on the Shenzhou 7 mission that included China's first spacewalk - a 20-minute excursion by astronaut Zhai Zhigang that was televised live on the country's national television.

China plans to launch Tiangong 1, the first module of a planned Chinese space station, in 2011.