China unveils first Hong Kong and Macao astronauts in fourth batch selection

China’s space programme continues to expand with the selection of ten astronauts for its fourth batch, including two payload specialists, one each from Hong Kong and Macao, marking a first for the regions.

China’s ambitious space program has taken a significant step towards inclusivity with the announcement of its fourth astronaut batch. Ten candidates were officially selected on Tuesday by the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), with a historic first: two payload specialists hailing from the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (SARs).

This selection marks a turning point for China’s space ambitions, fostering a more collaborative environment and potentially leading to groundbreaking scientific research conducted by these specialists aboard the Tiangong space station.

The ten candidates will undergo rigorous training at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center. Eight of the chosen are space pilots, individuals with extensive experience manoeuvring spacecraft. The remaining two are payload specialists, scientists or engineers who will design and conduct experiments while in space. The inclusion of specialists from Hong Kong and Macao signifies China’s commitment to expanding its space program and fostering scientific collaboration across its territories.

This move has garnered significant support from both Hong Kong and Macao, with local scientific institutions proposing innovative space science and application projects, such as high-resolution global greenhouse gas detection. These projects hold the potential to be executed at the Tiangong space station in the future, contributing valuable scientific data to the global research community.

China’s astronaut program has witnessed steady growth since its inception. The first batch, selected in 1998, consisted solely of Air Force pilots. The second batch, chosen in 2010, also included pilots. The third batch, selected in 2020, marked a shift by incorporating space pilots, flight engineers, and payload specialists. This latest selection furthers this diversification, solidifying China’s position as a major player in the global space race.