The Manned Space Engineering Office of China has announced that it is now enlisting civilians to join its national space program, which is run by the military.
Recruits from the space industry, research institutions, and prominent Chinese universities will be part of the third batch of astronauts that will train for China's manned crew missions.
"We invite more passionate young people to join the recruitment process to help transform our nation into a space powerhouse," says Yang Liwei, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency.
The recruitment program is part of China's aim to boost the frequency of its manned space missions to at least two per year.
Who Can Become Taikonauts?
Before this development, China has limited its astronaut recruitments to active-service military pilots only, as a reflection of the test flight nature of the missions. Astronaut candidates must be aged between 25 and 30, in a height range between 160 and 172 centimeters, and weight range between 50 and 70 kilograms, have at least 800 flying hours, with a degree-level education and outstanding physical and mental conditions. Candidates are also screened for their political loyalty and professionalism.
Since the late 1990s, the China National Space Administration has recruited 25 taikonauts, or Chinese astronauts, from the Chinese military for its space program.
Between 1996 to 1998, China has enlisted 14 taikonauts to command and serve as pilot and crewmembers of its space program.
The names of the second batch of China's astronaut corps appointed in May 2010 were kept confidential, making them "China's secret taikonauts." It was reported that seven national air force pilots including two women pilots were recruited for the Shenzhou program or China's National Manned Space program.
As of 2017, only 11 Chinese taikonauts have been to space.
China is planning to train more taikonauts, including doctors and engineers, to work on its future space station.
China was excluded from the International Space Station Program signed in 1998 due to a U.S. legislation preventing cooperation activities with countries with strong military presence.
Despite that, China has made significant leaps in its space program, including the historic Chinese lunar landing in 2013 with the Chang'e 3 moon lander and Yotu rover. That mission completed a two-week exploration of the moon's surface.
In 2008, China completed its first-ever spacewalk. Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang spent almost 20 minutes floating in space outside the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. He retrieved a material that was placed outside the spacecraft before the spacewalk. The spacewalk was broadcasted live.
Shenzhou 5, or the fifth launch of the program on Oct. 15, 2003, was the first Chinese manned flight. Yang Liwei was the first Chinese sent to space. He completed 14 Earth orbits on board the Shenzhou spacecraft.
In 2011, China launched its first space laboratory into space, the Tiangong 1 or Heavenly Place. Tiangong 2 was launched on September 2016 to test facilities for China's permanent space station, which is targeted for operation by 2023.