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China plans to launch the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft at 0023 local time this Saturday (16.23 GMT on Friday), which will transport three astronauts to the Chinese space station, where they will reside for six months, the country’s authorities announced on Thursday.

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According to the deputy director of the Space Agency for Manned Travel, Lin Xiqiang, revealed at a press conference, the three astronauts who will participate in the mission are Zhai Zhigang, 55, Ye Guangfu, 41, and a woman, Wang Yaping, also of 41.

Both Zhai and Wang are veterans of the Chinese space program: the former flew into space in 2008 aboard the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft, while Wang was part of the Shenzhou-10 crew in 2013.

Ye Guangfu, the youngest of the group, will face his first space trip, which he himself described today as “a great challenge” for which he is “with full confidence” thanks to his “eleven years of work”.

The three astronauts, all members of the Communist Party of China (CCP), showed patriotism and were confident that they could complete their mission in order to “contribute to the nation.”

The astronauts will spend six months in space, twice as long as the previous crew, who returned to Earth last September from the space station that the Asian country is preparing to be operational next year.

The space station will orbit the Earth at an altitude of between 340 and 450 kilometers, and is designed to last about 10 years.

According to Deputy Director Lin, the new mission seeks to test the ability of the astronauts and the spacecraft to withstand such a long stay.

To help them cope with half a year away from Earth, they will undergo remote medical tests every month and will have psychological support, Lin explained.

The astronauts will also be in contact with the former crew members of the station, who will guide them regarding life in space and especially regarding extravehicular operations.

China It will use a Long March 2-F rocket to launch Shenzhou-13, which will leave Earth from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

If all goes according to plan by the authorities, the astronauts will land six months later at the Dongfeng Landing Center in the northern province of Inner Mongolia.

The astronauts will continue the construction of the Tiangong space station (“Celestial Palace” in Chinese), which is expected to come into operation by the end of next year, thanks to the work of the future Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15.

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