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China to Recruit Civilian Astronauts, Boost Crewed Missions

FILE - Liu Yang, center, China's first female astronaut, waves next to her comrade Jing Haipeng, in this June 29, 2012 photo.

China says it plans to begin recruiting civilian astronauts for its military-backed space program and increase the number of crewed missions to around two a year.

The deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, Yang Liwei, says China's third batch of astronaut trainees will include recruits from industry, research institutions and universities who will help build and crew China's independent space station.

Yang, who became China's first man in space in 2003, told reporters Saturday new astronauts will include maintenance engineers and payload specialists as well as pilots.

China selected 14 astronauts, or yuhangyuan in Chinese, in the late 1990s and another seven in 2010, including two women. A total of 11 have been sent on six missions.

China's space station is scheduled to come online in 2022.