China has started a new round of taikonauts selection, and five to seven will enter the finalist, said an officer of the country's space program on Thursday morning.
"The new taikonauts will mainly take missions related to China's planned space station," Zhang Jianqi, deputy chief commander of the manned space project, told Xinhua on the sidelines of China's parliament annual session.
Zhang, also a deputy of the National People's Congress (NPC), or parliament, is attending the NPC annual session which opened in the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing.
"Like the first batch of taikonauts, the new taikonauts will be selected from among air force pilots," said Zhang.
He also confirmed that taikonauts including Yang Liwei, the first Chinese ever sent into space, will not retire, and might take missions if duty calls.
China sent its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003 riding self-developed spacecraft Shenzhou-5. It was followed by a two-man mission that carried Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng in 2005.
The trio of Shenzhou-7 taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng orbited the earth for three days last year.
Zhai became the first Chinese to "set foot" on outer space on Sept. 27, 2008. His spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes and was believed to help pave the way for the country's next space mission-- the launch of a space lab or space station.