Chinese astronauts emerge from Gobi after 19-day desert survival exercise

Training programme aims to prepare space travellers to survive in harsh conditions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 9:35pm

Fifteen Chinese astronauts have successfully completed a desert survival training programme in the depths of the Gobi.

While many exercises are designed to simulate the conditions astronauts may face on space stations or long lunar missions, this one had a more immediate contingency in mind: to survive in the event of an emergency landing.

The 19-day programme had been devised by the Astronaut Centre of China to help the astronauts survive in harsh conditions and follows a sea survival exercise off the coast of Shandong province with two European astronauts last August.

State news agency Xinhua reported that the 15 astronauts had been divided into groups of three and, wearing spacesuits, simulated an emergency landing in the depths of the Badain Jaran desert, a subsection of the Gobi, near Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Inner Mongolia.

Among the things they practised were how to report their location and also how to survive in the harsh conditions for 48 hours before rescuers arrived.

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Xinhua pictures showed the astronauts building shelters in the wild and travelling across the desert while carrying heavy equipment.

“The training was intense and highly demanding, especially when we had to overcome the winds, high temperatures and lack of water,” said Wang Yaping, who in 2013 became the second Chinese woman to go into space.

“The training improved not only our personal survival skills in the wild but also team cohesion.”

Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the astronaut programme at the ACC, said the astronauts had to cope with extreme heat and cold, as well as wind and rain, on the exercise.

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The desert survival training also tested the allocation of emergency supplies so this could be improved in future.

Wilderness survival training is an important part of astronaut training, with candidates for the space programme being tested on their ability to cope in a range of extreme environments, including jungles and glaciers.

The exercise, which coincided with emergency launch pad escape training at the Jiuquan centre, finished on Saturday and the astronauts have returned to Beijing.

The training programmes are part of China’s comprehensive programme to prepare its astronauts for the launch of its space station in 2020. The country also has long-term ambitions to go to the moon.