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Astronauts' endurance to be tested
Published on: 2011-01-18
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A five-year scientific research program to prepare Chinese astronauts for long-term missions in space has been approved and will begin later this year, Director of the Astronaut Center of China Chen Shanguang said on Monday.

The program aims to establish astronauts' operational and decision-making abilities in space, along with any psychological and physical changes they undergo living in cramped compartments in weightless conditions, Chen told China Daily on Monday.

"China will build a space station in 10 years and will probably carry out manned explorations of deep space in the future," he said, adding that the challenge is to figure out how to enable astronauts to remain healthy and work efficiently over prolonged periods in space.

The research findings will play a significant role in drafting the selection criteria to recruit future astronauts, he said.

"Space missions are becoming more difficult, making greater demands on astronauts. We want to find scientific answers to questions like what type of people can work as astronauts on long missions and what capabilities they should have," he said.

The research will also be used by decision-makers to decide what constitutes a suitable workload for astronauts on extended missions and drawing up training programs in accordance with the results.

The country's eight major research institutes will participate in the program, including the institute of psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing Normal University and Peking University, though the funding for the program has yet to be revealed.

It is the country's first pivotal, basic research program in the field of space exploration, according to Chen, who is also the program's chief scientist.

China plans to launch two space laboratories before 2016 to study the key technologies involved in building a space station, with a view to constructing a space station for astronauts to serve on board over an extended period around 2020, according to the official website of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

The longest period Chinese astronauts remained in space so far was 115.5 hours, or nearly five days, during the mission of Shenzhou VI in 2005.

In contrast, astronauts have continuously remained on board the International Space Station for six months at a time, while a Russian astronaut remained in space for a record 438 days from 1994 to 1995.

"China faces the challenge of figuring out how to build a spacecraft that will meet all of its astronauts' physical needs, as well as how to train astronauts physically and psychologically to cope with missions," said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Space International.

A Chinese volunteer, Wang Yue, is currently participating in the Russian "Mars 500" project, which is designed to test the long-term effects of isolation on the crew during a simulated trip to the planet.

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