Image Source: BBC
China’s Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced on Sunday that it has successfully launched another manned mission to its new space station, sending three astronauts to continue construction work for the next six months.
At 10:44 a.m. local time, the astronauts boarded the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft, launched by a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
The astronauts will spend six months in the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong Space Station before returning to Earth in December. Tiangong translates to “Heavenly Palace.”
Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe are among the crew members, and they are slated to dock with the space station roughly 6.5 hours after launch.
Chen, the mission commander, previously held the record for the most prolonged stay in space by a Chinese astronaut on China’s Shenzhou-11 manned space mission in 2016. On the Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012, Liu made history as the first Chinese woman in space. This will be Cai’s first space mission.
This is the space station’s third crewed mission, with China aiming to make it fully crewed and operating by December 2022. In September 2021, the first crewed mission, a three-month stay with three other astronauts, was completed. The second mission, Shenzhou-13, saw three astronauts spend their first six months in orbit.
For many countries, a six-month trip is routine, but it’s a vital opportunity for Chinese astronauts to become used to long-term space stays and help prepare future astronauts to do the same.
Another crewed mission, two laboratory modules, and two cargo missions are all set to launch before the end of the year.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will assist with the docking, setup, and testing of the two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian, scheduled to launch in July and October, respectively.
The modules will be combined into a T-shaped structure, along with the Tianhe core cabin, which will be extended from 50 cubic meters to 110 cubic meters, according to the CMSA. The astronauts will perform two to three spacewalks.
Another three astronauts are anticipated to rotate and live with the crew for five to ten days at the end of the Shenzhou-14 mission, increasing the total number of Chinese astronauts in orbit to a record six.
The Tiangong space station is planned to endure 15 years after being built. According to the CMSA, China wants to deploy two crewed trips and two cargo missions to the station per year.
On May 29, the Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship was moved to the launching region in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, together with a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
Last year’s Shenzhou-13 mission was a big step forward for China’s youthful space program, quickly becoming one of the most advanced in the world.
China’s space program was a latecomer, launching in the early 1970s, years after American astronaut Neil Armstrong had already set foot on the moon. However, the Cultural Revolution in China halted the country’s space program, delaying progress until the early 1990s.