Qualified candidates scheduled to receive systematic, extensive training in China
China will start the selection and training process soon for foreign astronauts to participate in joint flights to the country's Tiangong space station, according to a high-ranking space official.
Chen Shanguang, deputy chief planner of China's manned space programs, told China Central Television on Saturday that multiple countries have told China that they hope to send their astronauts to the Tiangong station.
"We will soon begin to select candidates from those nations for joint flights to our space station, and they will be able to work with our astronauts to carry out scientific tasks in space," Chen said.
Once the candidates pass the initial selection process, they will come to China to receive systematic and extensive training to learn how to operate Chinese spacecraft and live and work inside the Tiangong station, according to Chen.
"We also hope that the foreign candidates can gain some knowledge about Chinese culture because they will be onboard a Chinese space station. Moreover, we hope that cultural exchanges between foreign and Chinese astronauts will help with their flight," he said.
Pang Zhihao, an expert on space exploration technology and a renowned writer on spaceflight, said on Sunday that one of the most important criteria for the foreign candidates is their Chinese-language skill.
"The work language on the International Space Station is English. Therefore, the language to be spoken inside a Chinese station is naturally Chinese," Pang said, echoing Chen's advice that those foreign astronauts should know about Chinese culture.
Chen is not the first Chinese space official who has spoken about sending foreigners to the Tiangong station.
Before Chen, Yang Liwei, the first Chinese in space and now a deputy chief planner of the country's manned spaceflights, and Hao Chun, head of the China Manned Space Agency, have said that China is open to international cooperation on its space station, including flights jointly crewed with other nations.
Nie Haisheng, a senior astronaut and commander of the Shenzhou XII mission crew, said in 2021 that he and his fellow Chinese astronauts would welcome having foreign peers on the Tiangong station.
"We welcome our foreign counterparts, whom we will treat as friends, to join us at this 'space home'. We are determined to make our station a shared platform to advance science and technology to benefit all people around the world," he said.
In August 2017, Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy and Matthias Maurer of Germany, both from the European Space Agency, participated in a sea survival exercise, which was organized by the Astronaut Center of China, in waters off the coastal city of Yantai, Shandong province.
They were the first foreign astronauts to take part in spaceflight training in China.