The first batch of astronauts arrived at China’s new space station on Thursday. This is China’s longest manned mission to date. This is a milestone step in building Beijing into a major space power.
The three took the Long March 2 F rocket from the Jiuquan Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwestern China. About seven hours later, their spacecraft docked at Tiangong Station, where they will spend the next three months.
China National Broadcasting Corporation CCTV broadcasted a live broadcast of the spacecraft during the flight. Three astronauts raised their helmets and masks after reaching the orbit, and one astronaut smiled and waved at the camera.
As he browsed the flight manual, another person floated a pen from his knee in zero gravity.
Approximately 7 hours after liftoff, space officials confirmed that the spacecraft had docked with Tianhe, the core module of the country’s new space station.
The China Manned Space Administration stated that the Shenzhou XII spacecraft “successfully docked with the front port of the core module of the Tiangong Station”, and the live footage was broadcast on the National Television Station.
In the ceremony before the lift-off, the three astronauts were already dressed in spacesuits and greeted a group of supporters and space workers. They sang the patriotic song “Without the Communist Party of China, there would be no new China.”
The commander of the mission is Nie Haisheng, an honored pilot of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, who has participated in two space missions.
The other two members are also soldiers.
Life in space
The Tianhe capsule of the space station provides an independent living space for each astronaut, a “space treadmill” and exercise bike, and an email and video call communication center with ground control.
This is China’s first manned mission in the past five years.
Huang Weifen of China’s Manned Space Program said that astronauts will make two spacewalks during the mission, each lasting about six or seven hours.
She also said that the trio will wear newly developed spacewalk suits.
This launch represents a huge prestige in China, as Beijing plans to hold a large-scale propaganda event on July 1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party.
To prepare for the mission, the crew received more than 6,000 hours of training, including hundreds of underwater somersaults equipped all-space.
The China Space Administration plans to conduct a total of 11 launches by the end of next year, including another 3 manned missions, which will provide two laboratory modules to expand the 70-ton space station, as well as supplies and crew.
China’s space ambitions are partly due to the United States’ ban on its astronauts from entering the International Space Station, which is a cooperation between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan.
Although NASA said it may continue to operate after 2028, it will still be retired after 2024.
Tiangong will be much smaller than the International Space Station and is expected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years.
China has stated that it will be open to international cooperation on its space station, but has not yet provided specific details.
Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of the space program, said, “Foreign astronauts will definitely enter the Chinese space station one day.”
“Many countries have expressed their willingness to do this, and we will be open to this in the future,” he said.
Beijing said in March that it also plans to establish a separate lunar space station with Russia, and this week the two countries released a “road map” of potential cooperation opportunities.