China is teaching its army of taikonauts – their astronauts – survival skills in case their journey back to earth goes astray. More than a dozen taikonauts have just done a 19-day training course in the Badain Jaran Desert near the Jiuquan Launch Center in northwestern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The course was designed to teach them skills on how to survive in badlands, deserts or less habitable areas should their re-entry capsule land off target and leave them stranded at sea, in jungles or on glaciers.

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Taikonaut Liu Wang climbs out of a re-entry capsule during training. Photo: Xinhua

Before venturing into space, astronauts have to go through training mocking hostile conditions – on Earth, in space, plus during launch and reentry – to maximize their chances of survival in the event of an emergency. 

These astronauts, together with their counterparts from the European Space Agency, also learnt about maritime survival in waters off the coast of Yantai in eastern China’s Shandong Province in August 2017.

In the latest training course, each team, all wearing spacesuits, simulated an emergency landing in a desert in which they had to climb out of a capsule, report their location and survive in the desert before a rescue team could get them.

They had to feed themselves with whatever food that was left inside the capsule, find edible desert plants and even fend off threats from wolves to poisonous scorpions.

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During the survival training, taikonauts spent weeks in a desert in Inner Mongolia before a team located them and came to their rescue. Photos: Xinhua
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Taikonauts use a smoke rod to attract attention. Photo: Weibo
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A scene of a mock evacuation from a launch pad facility at the Jiuquan Launch Center in Gansu province. Photo: Xinhua

Xinhua also reported that astronauts completed emergency escape training on a launchpad at the Jiuquan Launch Center, to replicate the scenario when a launch is aborted at the last minute. 

China plans to start assembling its space station in orbit in 2020, an ambitious yet onerous goal that requires China to rev up training of more taikonauts and send them into space to start assembling core modules of the station.

The last time that Chinese astronauts entered space was in October 2016 when Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng rode Shenzhou-10 and docked the spacecraft with the Tiangong-2 space lab. The duo spent 33 days orbiting Earth before their journey back home in November that year.