Chinese astronauts dock with space station

Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming waving as they prepare to board for liftoff at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in northwestern China, on June 17.   | Photo Credit: AP

The first group of Chinese astronauts on Thursday entered the country’s under-construction space station, a major step in China’s plans to have a fully functioning station by next year.

On Thursday afternoon, the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, carrying the three astronauts, completed an “automated rendezvous and docking” with the Tianhe module, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said, adding this "signified that for the first time the Chinese have entered their own space station”.

Shenzhou-12 was launched on Thursday morning from the Jiuquan launch centre in the Gobi desert, and the astronauts entered Tianhe around six and a half hours later, the agency said.

The three-man crew will be in orbit for three months. This is the first of two manned space missions planned for this year, part of an intense schedule of launches aimed at completing the space station in 2022.

The official Xinhua news agency said the mission will "help test technologies related to long-term astronaut-stays and health care, the recycling and life support system, the supply of space materials, extravehicular activities and operations, and in-orbit maintenance.”

The Shenzhou-12 mission follows a busy few weeks for China’s space programme, coming after last month’s launch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, which carried vital supplies for the space station.

At least five more missions are planned for the year, with the Shenzhou-13 manned mission, also carrying three astronauts, set for later this year. The Tianhe module was launched in April, while the second and third modules to complete the space station will also be launched in coming months.

China last month landed a spacecraft on Mars carrying its first Mars rover, called Zhurong. The space agency last week released photographs captured of the planet’s terrain by Zhurong, hailing the success of its first Mars rover mission.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 11:51:47 PM |

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