China will begin the process of selecting new astronauts later in 2017, when 10 to 12 candidates - including two female astronauts - will be chosen for the nation's next phase of space exploration, a manned space program official revealed.
Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut and also deputy director general of China's manned space program, made the remarks in an interview with Beijing Youth Daily. Yang added that preliminary research and experiments have already been completed.
"The first batch of astronauts were all bachelor's degree-holders selected from the PLA Air Force. Now we will give more consideration to aerospace engineers and other experts from broader society. They will more likely be postgraduates," Yang said.
While the new astronauts may not go through as demanding a physical training program as the previous two groups, their physical condition will still be strictly checked to ensure that they don't suffer from chronic diseases. They will also undergo training to be mentally tough so they can handle long hours in a narrow capsule in space.
China is ready to enter the third phase of its space program, which would require astronauts to set up and maintain a space lab. In the future, new astronauts will be selected every four years, according to Yang.
China plans to launch a Long March-5B rocket in 2019, and by 2022 will have launched two space lab experiment modules. Astronauts will be stationed for longer periods in space, during which time they will conduct multiple manned space missions and experiments. Yang predicted that Chinese astronauts would land on the moon by around 2030.
"Our missions will be safer and more comfortable. One day, we may go to Mars or even further," he said.