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List to be cut to "17 or 18" choices, including engineers and scientists

A senior Chinese space official announced the selection of the country"s third batch of astronaut candidates on Monday and is expected to narrow the group down to 17 to 18 after more testing.

"The selection process covers three periods, and we will select both males and females," said Yang Liwei, head of the China Manned Space Agency and the nation"s first astronaut.

It was the first time Yang had appeared in public as the agency"s head, having served as deputy head since 2010.

The second group of astronauts recruited in 2010 had two women on a seven-member team.

"The total number of final candidates for the third group will be about 17 or 18. The types of astronauts covered are pilots, maintenance engineers and payload scientists," Yang said.

"Those new astronauts will attend to tasks related to our space station flight after completing their training," he said.

The backgrounds and types of people eligible for recruitment will also be different from previous selections.

"The scope will cover not only pilots from the People"s Liberation Army Air Force but also flight engineers and scientists from related industries, universities and institutions," he said.

China selected its first group of 14 astronauts in 1998 and the second group 12 years later. All were accomplished pilots from the PLA Air Force, and they successfully completed a total of six manned space missions.

The third round of selection was more complex than others because of new mission requirements, Yang said on China Central Television.

"We have invited more dedicated young people to join the recruitment process to help transform our nation into a space powerhouse," Yang said.

China plans to start assembling its first space station in 2020. The facility, which will be designed to last at least 10 years, is scheduled to enter full service two years later. Each group of astronauts will occupy it for three to six months.

Also on Monday, a special foundation established by Zeng Xianzi - founder of Hong Kong-listed Goldlion Group - honored 119 people who stood out during China"s earlier space missions.

The foundation, which was set up in 2004, aims to reward outstanding talent in the aerospace industry and has granted more than 57.9 million yuan ($9.2 million) to 369 people so far, including astronauts, scientists and project managers.

Tuesday is China Space Day.