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Shenzhou XVI crew members share space stories

By JIANG CHENGLONG | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-01-20 00:30

The crew of Shenzhou XVI — Jing Haipeng (center), Zhu Yangzhu (right) and Gui Haichao (left) — make their first official public appearance at Beijing Aerospace City on Friday since they returned from space 80 days ago. [ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY]

The Shenzhou XVI crew members shared their space stories with the public on Friday for the first time since their return from space last October, after the historic five-month mission involving China's first civilian astronaut.

The three crew members, Major General Jing Haipeng, the mission's commander, Colonel Zhu Yangzhu and Professor Gui Haichao, arrived at China's Tiangong space station last May, in the nation's 11th manned spaceflight and the fifth crewed mission to the space station.

Jing and spaceflight engineer Zhu are members of the People's Liberation Army Astronaut Division, while Gui, who served as the mission's payload specialist, is a doctoral supervisor at the Beijing-based Beihang University's Department of Spacecraft and Launch Vehicle Technology.

"I felt particularly happy to fly with the diverse crew members, which for the first time included a pilot, an engineer, and a payload specialist," Jing, 57, said at the news conference held in Beijing.

The Shenzhou XVI mission marked Jing's fourth journey into space, making him China's most experienced astronaut.

"In previous missions, astronauts had to multitask, piloting the spacecraft, conducting experiments, maintaining equipment, and even performing medical tasks such as conducting our own ultrasounds," he said.

"However, this time, as the commander and pilot, I mainly focused on the spacecraft's navigation and the space station's operations," said Jing, adding that the primary responsibilities of his companions were assembling and maintaining the space station's equipment and managing payloads.

Jing also revealed that, unlike his previous space missions, he actually gained weight by the end of this one.

"We strictly followed our exercise and dietary plans, which is why our physical and mental conditions were exceptionally good," he said.

At the news conference, Chen Dong, the head of the PLA Astronaut Division, said that after medical quarantine and recuperative care, the three astronauts are in good physical and mental health, with their weight stable and similar to preflight levels, and their muscle strength, endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness basically restored to the preflight state.

They will undergo a final health assessment before returning to normal training and work routines, he said.

Flight engineer Zhu said the greatest challenge was to ensure "zero mistakes in daily operations" during the five-month mission.

"I was mainly responsible for the maintenance and repair of the space station platform, ensuring that it is safe, stable, efficient, and maintains long-term operations," he said, noting that unexpected situations which are difficult to predict on Earth can arise in space.

"This requires us to learn to solve problems promptly and effectively," Zhu said. "We must be extremely familiar with the complex systems of the space station and possess specialized knowledge."

"The most important aspect, in fact, was the strength of our team. For every critical operation, we repeatedly confirmed and reminded each other to ensure infallibility," he said.

Payload specialist Gui became China's first civilian astronaut to fly in space. As a researcher, he expressed great joy in conducting scientific research in space.

"We closely collaborated with ground researchers to complete more than 70 space experiments and technical research projects, obtaining a wealth of experimental data and bringing back many valuable samples."

Gui said he was so proud, as a civilian, to enter China's own space station and contribute to research projects.

Commander Jing also expressed his long-lasting passion for his career. "The pursuit of dreams knows no end. In fact, the success of each mission heralds the start of the next."

"Chinese astronauts have been advancing steadily, step by step, and will explore with greater courage and wisdom to realize even bigger dreams," he said.

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