China selects 4th batch of astronaut candidates as part of 2030 moon landing goal

illustration showing a base on the moon
A still from a video released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) that outlines its concept for a lunar base to be developed across the next couple of decades. (Image credit: China National Space Administration)

China has selected 10 new astronauts for training as part of its goal to put a crew on the moon by 2030, the country's human spaceflight agency announced last week.

The latest batch includes eight pilots and two payload experts, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO). They are set to receive about two years of training at the Astronaut Center of China (ACC) in Beijing, after which they will become eligible for crewed missions to the Tiangong space station in low Earth orbit.

The newly selected astronaut candidates will be tasked with conducting science experiments inside the Tiangong station and also "fulfilling the nation's manned missions to the moon," Huang Weifen, chief trainer of the astronauts, told the state-run outlet China Daily.

While all 39 of China's previously selected astronauts were former air force pilots, the latest batch for the first time includes pilots from the ground force and navy wings of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The newly selected 10 were picked from a pool of 120 applicants following three rounds of tests related to physical and psychological skills, according to China Daily.

The two payload specialists, one each from Hong Kong and Macao, marked the first time astronauts were selected from the two "special administrative regions" (SARs). Hong Kong media reported the expert from the city to be Lai Ka-ying, a chief inspector with the Hong Kong Police who worked in the force's secret technical services division. John Lee Ka-chiu, who is the Current Chief Executive of Hong Kong, said Ka-ying's selection "writes [a] glorious history for [Hong Kong] and makes the whole of Hong Kong proud," according to the Hong Kong Free Press

The details of the second payload expert, who's from Macao, were not made public. "It is an honor for [Macao] and sends a strong message of encouragement to Macao young people," a statement by the Macao government read. 

Details of the remaining eight crew members were not revealed, as is the protocol of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA). For example, the agency tends to announce the identities of astronauts flying to Tiangong only a day before launch.

The news comes shortly after the launch of the three-person Shenzhou 18 mission to Tiangong, including China's first civilian astronaut. The three astronauts — Ye Guangfu, Li Cong and Li Guangsu — recently completed strength tests using the station's bicycle and treadmill, data from which will guide the exercise plan to minimize muscle loss in the microgravity environment, CSMA said on Monday (June 17).

The agency added that the newly selected astronauts are among those who may set foot on the moon by 2030. In February, Ji Qiming, assistant to the director of CMSA, told local media that the technical proposal for the launch and lunar landing site, and the development of the Long March 10 rocket, Mengzhou crew spacecraft, Lanyue lander and spacesuits were ready.

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Sharmila Kuthunur contributor

Sharmila Kuthunur is a Seattle-based science journalist covering astronomy, astrophysics and space exploration. Follow her on X @skuthunur.