Scientists and workers at a Chinese satellite launch center in the Gobi desert are making their final preparations for the launch of the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft: a high-stakes crewed mission, and China's first crewed launch in years.
China will send three astronauts into orbit on Thursday, the first of four crewed space flights to complete the country's space station by the end of next year.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo will launch into orbit aboard the spacecraft that morning from Jiuquan in northwestern Gansu province.
Construction of China's space station began in April with the launch of Tianhe, the first and largest of three modules.
It will be Tang Honbo’s first space outing.
"There is pressure and more confidence because it's my first mission. The pressure is unavoidable as space is mysterious and full of unknowns. Space station missions are also full of risks and challenges, but I firmly believe that pressure is our motivation, and our confidence guarantees success. After 11 years of training, I am full of confidence in myself and my team."
Chinese astronauts have had a comparatively low international profile.
U.S. legislation bars NASA from any cooperation with China, and Chinese astronauts have not been to the more than two-decade-old International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS may be decommissioned in 2024 if the project does not receive new funding, and China could end up being the operator of the only space station in Earth's orbit.