JIUQUAN, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- It was the first time that Zhang Lu had met the public since being selected as one of China's second batch of astronauts 12 years ago.
"I am ready for my first space flight," Zhang told a press conference on Monday, beaming with confidence.
Having gone through a dozen years of tough training, Zhang has been appointed, along with two others, to carry out the country's Shenzhou-15 manned space mission, which will be launched on Nov. 29.
"I will fly for my personal dream and fly for our nation's dream," he said at the press conference.
Full of expectations for the upcoming six-month stay in space, he also hopes to sing in his spare time. "Singing is my hobby, through which I can express my true feelings."
Born in 1976 in Hanshou, a county in central China's Hunan Province, Zhang is gifted with a beautiful voice and loves singing.
After finishing junior high school, he applied to an art school and his musical talent was unanimously recognized by the judges. But his mother strongly opposed him going to art school and asked him to pursue his studies in high school and later in college.
In high school, Zhang continued his interest in music, applying to a conservatoire, before he spotted a notice recruiting flight cadets, which changed his mind completely.
Asked why he gave up on studying singing in favor of becoming a flight cadet, he answered, "If I became a singer, I would never have had the chance to fly a plane, but if I chose to be a pilot, I could sing proudly while flying in the blue sky."
Before he left home, his father told him to have the determination to bear the hardships ahead, and it is an attitude he has maintained throughout his military career.
In 2003, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei was successfully sent into space, realizing the Chinese people's long-held dream of space exploration. It inspired Zhang, then an air force pilot, to pursue a new goal -- to become an astronaut and fly into space one day.
He didn't get his chance until six years later, when China began to select its second batch of astronauts. The road to space has never been a shortcut, and Zhang has endured many hardships along the way.
In his first year as an astronaut, he had to take more than 30 different theoretical courses, and received hundreds of types of training. Each new form of training pushed his physical and psychological limits, Zhang said.
The training he once feared most was hypergravity endurance. In a high-speed centrifuge, he had to bear a gravitational force of up to eight times the gravitational pull normally felt on Earth.
"I felt that all the organs inside my body were squashed, and there was a strong sense of suffocation, and tears flowed uncontrollably," he recalled.
Zhang pondered this situation and spoke with his colleagues, taking lots of advice. Finally, he was able to bring his breathing under control and he raised his performance to a first-class grade.
During the 12 years of arduous training, the program was so full that he barely had a single weekend off.
After he was selected for the Shenzhou-15 crew, Zhang received underwater training, which was physically demanding. He had to wear an underwater training suit weighing hundreds of kilograms and practice exiting the spacecraft cabin, an exhausting process that he described as being like rock-climbing.
At times, he would remain deep under water in the cumbersome suit for five to six hours. With his limbs constrained by the suit, he could do nothing but grit his teeth and endure the experience, regardless of the various itches and pains he felt.
This training would prepare him for the extravehicular activities (EVAs) of the Shenzhou-15 mission. During their spacewalks, the crew may have to crawl for much longer distances than their peers on previous missions.
Zhang Lu, together with his teammates Fei Junlong and Deng Qingming, will witness the official completion of the country's space station construction during their six-month stay in orbit.
The trio will also meet with the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts on the space station. "We have gifts for them, but we'll keep it a secret for now," Zhang told the press conference.