Scientists from Hong Kong could be headed into space to join their compatriots aboard China's planned space station, it was revealed yesterday - as the country's first woman astronaut arrived in the city.
Niu Hongguang , deputy chief commander of the country's manned space engineering programme, said the mainland did not have enough astronauts to operate the planned space station, so 'we need comrades from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to take part in it'.
Niu was in the city yesterday at the invitation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and headed a delegation of about 40 key commanders, astronauts and designers.
They are the men and women behind China's first manned space docking mission between the orbiting experimental space station Tiangong-I and the Shenzhou-IX spacecraft in June.
'We will need engineers to do experiments, and we are discussing how to pick, nurture, and train space travellers like these,' Niu said.
The Chinese space station proper will be an artificial satellite placed in low earth orbit which will be launched 'around 2020'. It will be used for a range of scientific experiments conducted in a 'freefall' space environment.
The three astronauts involved in the recent mission made their first public appearance in the city at a press conference at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in the afternoon. China's first woman in space, Liu Yang , said she cherished her experience of working and living in space. 'Deep inside, I now feel confident and powerful,' she said. 'I think female astronauts will be indispensible to any future space explorations.'
Astronaut Liu Wang recalled one experience: 'We flew past Hong Kong many times on the spacecraft. We really wanted to see how it looked from 300 kilometres above. It was very beautiful.'
He said his wife had given him a list of things she wanted him to buy for her and his daughter. 'I hope to buy many things, and contribute to the Hong Kong economy in the most practical way,' he said.
The third member of the crew, Jing Haipeng said it was his third trip to the city. 'I'm in Hong Kong to see all of you ... every time I'm here I feel your love and care for me,' he said.
The astronauts attended a welcome dinner hosted by the Hong Kong government at the Wan Chai convention centre last night.
Today they will speak to primary and secondary school students about their space experiences.