Environment Science and Technology

China sends first astronauts to its new space station

China sent its first astronauts to its self-developed space station on Thursday. This marks a major step as China looks to boost its space mission capabilities and challenge western countries, notably the U.S.

China has been banned and excluded from sending its astronauts to the International Space Station, which is co-operated by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. This fueled its ambition to make its space station. The space station is expected to be fully operational by 2022 and to remain in operation for at least 10 years.

On Thursday, their Shenzhou-12 capsule successfully took off atop its Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre at 09:22 Beijing time (01:22 GMT) with the three astronauts; Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo.

Zhang Zhifen, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, declared the mission a “complete success” at around 9:43 a.m. local time. The three are to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth.

It’s the first time China has sent a manned mission to space since 2016. The launch and subsequent space missions are another demonstrations of China’s growing confidence and capability in the space domain.

The primary objective for Commander Nie Haisheng and his team on the Shenzhou-12 mission is to bring the 22.5-tonne Tianhe module into service.

“I have a lot of expectations,” Mr. Nie said ahead of the launch.

“We need to set up our new home in space and test a series of new technologies. So, the mission is tough and challenging. I believe with the three of us working closely together, doing thorough and accurate operations, we can overcome our challenges. We have the confidence to complete the mission.”

Beijing has made space exploration a top priority as it looks to challenge the U.S. in space technology.

In April, it launched one of the modules that will make up the space station called “Tianhe”, which will be the living quarters for the astronauts. And last month, China sent the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft to dock with Tianhe. 

It is the first and core component in what will eventually be a near 70-tonne orbiting outpost, comprising living quarters, science labs, and even a Hubble-class telescope to view the cosmos.

The various elements will be launched in turn throughout the next couple of years. The construction will be accompanied by regular cargo deliveries, as well as crew expeditions.

China will carry out 11 missions this year and next to complete the construction of the space station, including four manned missions.

The three astronauts sent to the space station will spend three months, testing the technologies required for the construction and operation of the space station such as life support mechanisms and in-orbit maintenance, and also carry out spacewalks.

The space station will have separate sleeping areas as well as space-to-ground communications.

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