(AP) -- China's military-backed space program has selected 45 astronaut candidates, including its first women hopefuls, for a training program less than a year after the country completed its first spacewalk.
The 30 male and 15 female candidates are part of a program to pick five men and two women astronauts to participate in three more manned missions planned before 2012. The missions are to prepare for the rendezvous and docking tasks required for constructing a space station, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.
In 2003, China become the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space. It followed last year with its first spacewalk, putting the country closer to building a space station and landing a man on the moon.
Like previous astronauts, all 45 candidates are air force pilots between the ages of 27 and 34, the report said. They will undergo a series of rigorous psychological and physical tests as part of the selection process.
China announced last year that it would send scientists on future manned missions as demands for technical expertise rises.
China has said it wants to launch a manned mission by 2020 to experiment with technologies that will enable astronauts to take care of spacecraft for longer periods of time.
The Chinese program is backed by the country's secretive military. While Beijing says it is committed to a peaceful program, analysts point to numerous potential applications for its technology, such as when it used a land-based missile to blast apart an old satellite in 2007, the first such test ever conducted by a nation.
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