Chinese astronauts soar to space station as construction kicks into high gear

China on Sunday sent three astronauts on a six-month mission to oversee a pivotal period of construction of its space station, the last modules of which are to be launched in the coming months.

The space station, when completed by the end of the year, will mark a milestone in China’s three-decade manned space program, first approved in 1992 and originally named “Project 921”. . It will also mark the beginning of permanent Chinese habitation in space.

The completion of the structure, which is about one-fifth of the International Space Station (ISS) by mass, is a source of pride for ordinary Chinese people and crowns President Xi Jinping’s 10 years as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

A Long March-2F rocket, which was used to launch China’s first crewed spaceflight during the Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003, lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the north Gobi Desert -West China, at 10:44 a.m. (02:44 GMT). ) with the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft, or “Divine Vessel”, and its three astronauts, showed a live broadcast by state television.

“I watched the launch of Shenzhou-5 when I was an elementary school student, and now we have Shenzhou-14,” social media developer Zanna Zhang told Reuters.

“Of course I’m super excited and I’m so proud as a Chinese. We’re on the verge of becoming a space superpower,” the 25-year-old said.
Construction began in April last year with the launch of the first and largest of its three modules – Tianhe – the living quarters of visiting astronauts. Wentian Lab Modules

and Mengtian are to be launched in July and October respectively.
Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong, 43, and his teammates Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46, all from the second cohort of Chinese astronauts, will live and work on the space station for about 180 days before returning to Earth in December with the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.

“Crucial Battle”

Former Air Force pilot Chen along with Liu, who became China’s first female astronaut in space a decade ago, and space mission rookie Cai, will oversee the rendezvous, l docking and integration of Wentian and Mengtian with the central module.

They will also install equipment inside and outside the space station and conduct a range of scientific research.

“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a crucial battle in the construction phase of China’s space station,” Chen said at a news conference in Jiuquan on Saturday. “The task will be more difficult, there will be more problems and the challenges will be greater.”

When completed, the T-shaped space station can accommodate up to 25 laboratory cabinets, each of which is a micro-laboratory that can be used to conduct experiments. Wentian will be equipped to support life science research while Mengtian will focus on microgravity experiments.

Wentian will also have an airlock cabin for extravehicular travel, as well as short-term accommodations for astronauts during crew rotations.

The space station is designed for a lifetime of at least a decade.

Its long-term accommodation capacity of just three astronauts, compared to seven on the ISS, has not deterred China from inviting foreign astronauts in its ambition to internationalize the space station.

The three-module station could be expanded to a four-module cross-shaped configuration in the future, an assistant space station designer told Chinese media last year.

Like the ISS, spacecraft and modules launched by other countries are also welcome to dock and become a long-term member of the Chinese station. Commercial human spaceflight to the station is also under consideration.

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