China reveals Shenzhou-18 crew for next space station mission

China has revealed the names of the three astronauts who will travel to the country’s space station as part of its 13th crewed mission on Thursday.

The Shenzhou-18 mission will launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China. During the mission, the crew will carry out experiments on fish as an initial step towards raising other vertebrates in space.

Commander Ye Guangfu, who was part of the 2021 Shenzhou-13 mission, will lead his teammates Li Cong and Li Guangsu, both embarking on their first flight mission.

They will be received by the Shenzhou-17 trio, who will return to Earth on April 30 after six months in space. The Shenzhou-18 crew will stay in the Tiangong space station until late October.

The Tianzhou-8 cargo ship and the Shenzhou-19 crewed spaceship are scheduled to arrive during their six-month mission.

Chinese astronauts fix damaged solar panel on Tiangong space station

Deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency Lin Xiqiang said the crew would begin China’s first in-orbit aquatic ecology project.

Lin told reporters on Wednesday that the mission would establish a stable “self-circulating aquatic ecosystem” in orbit using zebrafish and hornwort, with the goal of achieving a “breakthrough in cultivating vertebrates in space”.

Scientists view the zebrafish as a model vertebrate because of its relatively small and simple brain. With its fully sequenced genome, the tiny freshwater species has helped scientists make new discoveries and technological advancements.

Last month, for example, a Chinese research team created real-time imagery of the 100,000 neurons in a zebrafish, which could lead to advances in mind-controlled computers.

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China is boldly going where no one has gone before

China is boldly going where no one has gone before

Small fish species have frequently been used in space research. In 2012, the International Space Station set up a facility for research on zebrafish and medaka fish, also known as the Japanese rice fish, to study bone loss and muscle atrophy under microgravity.

In a 2016 study, Russian and Japanese scientists found that medakas sent to the International Space Station started losing bone density almost immediately after arriving – much faster than humans.

According to Lin, more than 130 science and design projects have been conducted on Tiangong by researchers from some 500 Chinese and international institutions.

“The research projects carried out in space and with samples sent to Earth have been resulting in new findings. These developments will gradually show greater scientific, technological and economic benefits,” he said.

China’s space experiments have supported the development of alloy materials for nuclear power plants, high-performance semiconductor alloy materials, an artificial vascular tissue chip and research on the prevention and treatment of bone diseases such as fractures and spinal injury repair, according to state news agency Xinhua.

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