The first astronauts for China’s new space station blasted off Thursday. This will be China’s longest crewed mission to date. It will be a landmark step in establishing the country as a major space power.
The astronauts from China launched on a Long March-2F rocket for the Tiangong station. Here they will spend three months.
Lift-off took place at 9:22 am (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China’s Gobi desert.
After about 10 minutes it reached orbit and the space craft separated from the rocket successfully. READ MORE ABOUT ISS HERE
At a ceremony before the blastoff, the three astronauts, a patriotic song graced the event, “Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no new China”.
The mission’s commander is Nie Haisheng. He has already participated in two space missions. The two other members are also members of the military.
The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft will dock with the Tianhe main section of the space station. It was placed in orbit on April 29, possibly as soon as six hours after liftoff.
Moreover, the module has separate living spaces for each of them. There will be a space treadmill and bike for exercise, and a communication centre for emails and video calls with ground control.
It is China’s first crewed mission in nearly five years. As per sources, the astronauts will perform two spacewalks during the mission.
The launch also comes ahead of the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a massive propaganda campaign.
For this mission, the crew has undergone more than 6,000 hours of training, including hundreds of underwater somersaults in full space gear.
China’s space ambitions are partly fuelled by a US ban on its astronauts on the ISS. The International Space Station is a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
However, the ISS is due for retirement after 2024, even though NASA says that it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.
Tiangong will be much smaller than the ISS. It is expected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years. China says it would be open to international collaboration on its space station although it has yet to give specific details.