JIUQUAN, May 29 (Xinhua) -- As China counts down to the launch of the Shenzhou-16 spaceflight mission, Gui Haichao, who will serve as the first-ever payload expert to be part of a crewed team, made his first public appearance on Monday.
Gui said he feels lucky and happy to have the opportunity to become the country's first payload expert in space, adding that the opportunity is a result of the "new stage" of the country's space station.
Gui, a professor at Beihang University, is also the country's first civilian astronaut into space. He said that although the Shenzhou-16 crew members have divided responsibilities, they are one another's backup and will complete every task and operation together.
Born in 1986, Gui's enthusiasm for science has been developing since childhood. He had a set of encyclopedias from which he gained a lot of basic space knowledge.
After sitting his college entrance examination, Gui placed first in his county and was admitted to Beihang University, a prestigious university in aeronautics and astronautics.
He majored in aircraft design and engineering at the school of astronautics, and earned a doctorate after nine years of study.
Gui then pursued postdoctoral research overseas and published approximately 20 SCI academic papers in top international journals. After returning to China, he became an associate professor at Beihang University's school of astronautics.
In 2018, China announced a plan to recruit its third group of astronauts, and specified that this would include not only pilots, but also flight engineers and payload specialists.
Gui signed up without much thought and enrolled successfully following several demanding rounds of selection.
Centrifuge training, or high G-force endurance training, was once a challenge for Gui.
When astronauts begin a spaceflight or are on their way back to Earth, they are subjected physically to high G-force levels. Gui successfully endured 6 g's during the selection program, but he had to improve his resistance against 8 g's to meet the training standard.
During his first centrifuge training, Gui said he felt like his chest was ripping open and his heart rate was high.
Deeply unsatisfied, he turned to seasoned astronauts for advice and put his performance down to inappropriate body actions resulting from mental tension, the inadequate condition of his body and his lack of relevant skills.
He made adjustments during later training sessions, and he was able to endure 8 g's and made continuous progress in his performance.
Survival training in the scorching heat of the Badain Jaran Desert in northwest China also had a particular impact on Gui. He can still recall how his skin burned after the sunlight penetrated his double-layered tent at noon.
Gui and his teammates tried their best to obtain water in various ways, such as collecting rain, dew drops and even urine.
But they faced greater challenges. Gui, who was carrying goods weighing dozens of kilograms, found that the bottom part of one of his shoes had peeled off. He used a knife to pierce holes in the shoe, and the strings of a parachute as thread to sew the sides together. When his other shoe fell apart later, he chose to endure the scalding pain from the sand and walked for two hours before pulling out of the training exercise.
Shenzhou-16 will be the first crewed mission since China's space station entered its application and development stage. As the team's payload expert, Gui will undertake many space science experiments in various fields.
"I'm confident that we can complete the mission with the team's joint efforts," he said.