Three astronauts aboard China’s first crewed spaceship in nearly five years have arrived at the enormous Tiangong space station after taking off from the Gobi desert.
A Long March-2F rocket launched the astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, which docked with Tianhe – the main section of the Tiangong station – just over seven hours later.
Astronauts Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, were earlier honored in a modest ceremony at the Jiuquan satellite launch center. It is China’s first human mission to space since 2016, and the longest ever scheduled, with the team expected to be on Tiangong for three months.
Previous Chinese missions have been a month at most.
The three astronauts were earlier welcomed at the Jiuquan satellite launch facility in a small ceremony. It is China’s first manned mission since 2016, and the biggest ever planned, with the astronauts anticipated to spend three months on Tiangong. The earlier Chinese missions lasted no more than a month.
Tiangong was planned long ago
The construction of Tiangong – which means Heavenly Palace – started in April with the introduction of its first module, Tianhe. The team will dwell on the module while doing construction work on the cylinder-shaped unit, which measures 16.6 meters by 4.2 meters.
The module has separate living spaces for each of the astronauts. It has a treadmill, a communication center, for emails and video calls to ground control.
Appearing before the media Wednesday, the crew said that the mission was expected to be complicated. They were sitting behind the glass. Nie, the mission chief, has traveled to space twice, and Liu has traveled to space once.
Nie said that there are numerous jobs. These jobs would be difficult and there would be numerous obstacles to overcome.
The debut is significant in China as Beijing plans to commemorate the ruling Communist Party’s 100th anniversary on July 1 with a big propaganda campaign.
The launch was telecasted live on TV
The launch was shown live on state television Thursday morning from departure to orbit, with inside views of the cabin showing the astronauts smiling as various items drifted around them in zero gravity.
The launch seemed to proceed smoothly, according to Jonathan McDowell. He is an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States. China provided significantly more detailed accounts than past human space missions, indicating a high level of trust.
What the astronauts will conduct in their mission?
The astronauts will perform two spacewalks, more than any other previous mission, and execute a variety of research, including the evaluation of a new robot arm and regenerative life backup systems.
The team put in almost 6,000 hours of training for the operation, involving hundreds of underwater somersaults in an entire spacesuit.