JIUQUAN, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- Tang Hongbo, a veteran astronaut who completed his first spaceflight about two years ago, is poised for a new space mission.
Appointed to the position of the Shenzhou-17 commander, Tang is slated to be the first space traveler to revisit China's Tiangong space station. He will also become the quickest space returnee to date among the country's astronauts.
"I am confident in, committed to and capable of accomplishing the Shenzhou-17 mission with two crewmates," said Tang, who stood between two space rookies, at Wednesday's press conference.
The trio of astronauts, the youngest crew in China's manned spaceflight history, is ready and waiting to be launched via the Shenzhou-17 spaceship and start a six-month mission that is projected to carry out the space station's first extravehicular experimental maintenance.
Tang, born in 1975 and launched into orbit on the Shenzhen-12 mission in June 2021, became one of the first occupants of the Chinese space station's core module Tianhe.
"Tang is modest and always eager to learn. I have full confidence in this crew, and I trust Tang very much," said Shenzhou-12's commander Nie Haisheng.
Now, the space complex Tang is going to return to has been extended into a versatile space lab with two additional modules and more sophisticated experimental facilities.
During their three-month manned mission back in 2021, the Shenzhou-12 crew tested key technologies for the construction and operation of the space station, long-term stays of astronauts, recycling and life support systems, supply of space materials, extravehicular activities (EVAs) and operations, and in-orbit maintenance.
In July that year, Tang and his crewmate Liu Boming did a seven-hour space walk to accomplish tasks including equipment installation and panoramic camera lifting.
During the extravehicular emergency drill, Tang maintained good balance and crawled carefully to avoid equipment in the cabin. He completed the task in just over 10 minutes, quicker than the fastest time recorded during simulation training on Earth.
Amid his intense tasks, Tang also spiced up his first space trip with much fun, and this turned him into a star on China's social media platforms.
A popular video clip that went viral on Bilibili, one of China's largest video-sharing websites, saw Tang munching an apple while working in the space station.
When Tang flaunted an apple to his son during a video call, it disappeared in the blink of an eye. The crew had to do a thorough search before finally finding it behind a cabinet. The apple played hide-and-seek, Tang said self-mockingly.
Tang is a shutterbug. A candid photo revealed the moment when Tang bent down on a berth in Tiangong to take pictures from the cabin window using his cellphone. After returning to Earth, he presented his photos of a stunning moon above the horizon as a gift for the public during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
In a space lecture delivered for teenagers who started their fall semester in September 2021, Tang produced an eye-catching stunt by using a pair of chopsticks to pick up jelly-like beads of tea water floating in space.
Tang also displayed a sprouted sweet potato from his hometown which he took with him into space. He invited his young TV audience on Earth to join him in a potato-growing contest.
On Sept. 16, 2021, when Tang was about to leave Tianhe, he felt reluctant to part with his space home and took another tour of the module, making up his mind to return to it soon.
"I'm staying true to my mission to do a spaceflight for my country," said Tang at the press conference. "It never changes, and I have never slacked off."
Tang completed his body recovery, mental adjustment and new training as soon as possible. He was selected for the Shenzhou-17 mission within a year after returning to Earth.
"Now, I cannot wait to go back and see the changes on the space home," said Tang.
As a new commander, Tang gave a rule of thumb to his crewmates -- to err is human and therefore following the handbook closely is always the golden rule.
"A mouth-wipe or tableware, for instance, must all be put back in their assigned places," said Tang. "Otherwise, it can drift away without you noticing."
Tang was born into a rural family in the central Chinese city of Xiangtan, the birthplace of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, whose outstanding achievements inspired Tang from childhood to become a hero.
Tang joined the People's Liberation Army in 1995 and clocked more than 1,000 safe flight hours. He was included in the second candidate pool of Chinese astronauts in 2010, and secured his first spaceflight mission after 11 years of strenuous learning, training and testing.
"Life is a long journey, so don't give up on your dreams because of difficulties and obstacles," Tang once encouraged youngsters.
He was awarded the third-class medal and the honorary title "heroic astronaut" for his service to China's space endeavors. ■