China is ready to welcome its first female oceanauts this year as the country is accelerating its deep-sea exploration, a senior official said.
"The recruitment of six oceanauts is expected to begin in March," said Liu Feng, director of the China National Deep Sea Center.
"I hope two of them can be female."
Since Jiaolong, China's manned deep-sea submersible, dived a record depth of 7,062 meters in June in the Mariana Trench, expanding the country's oceanaut team has been an urgent call.
This year Jiaolong has increased the frequency of deep-sea dive programs to three seagoing legs.
China has only two trained male oceanauts — Fu Wentao and Tang Jialing, who took part in the 7,000-meter dive project last year.
This year's recruitment will lift the male-only restriction, but also impose more demanding requirements, Wang Chengsheng, director of deep-diving operations for the National Deep Sea Center, said.
The center is working on new selection criteria, training program and assessment standards for future oceanauts, he said, adding a national standard is likely to be formed this year.
In the past, besides passing a tough physical test, oceanauts were required to be men, under 35 years old with a bachelor's degree or above in a related major such as shipbuilding, electronics or machinery, Fu Wentao, a 30-year-old oceanaut, said in an earlier interview.
But Wang did not reveal details about the new selection criteria for both male and female oceanauts.
Liu expected the six oceanauts to be selected will take part in deep-sea dives after one or two years' training.
"They should be utility players. In a deep-sea dive, they are oceanauts, and on board they can help repair and maintain the submersible," he said.
With all these high expectations in the new oceanauts, Liu also said women have their own advantages over men and believes that women can do as well as or even better than men.
"Women are more cautious, which is crucial in deep-sea diving," Liu said.
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