China successfully launched three astronauts into space onboard the Shenzhou-12 capsule on a Long March-2F carrier rocket Thursday morning. It was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China’s Gobi Desert. This is China’s first manned mission in nearly five years.
Shenzhou-12 commander Nie Haisheng, during a press conference at Jiuquan on June 15, said they are honored to take the lead in a series of manned missions for the space station construction. The two other are Liu Boming, a veteran of Shenzhou-7 in 2008 and Tang Hongbo, a rookie spaceflyer. “We will not only make the core module a “space home” but also carry out a series of key technology verifications,” Nie said.
The first construction liftoff occurred on April 28, sending Tianhe to low Earth orbit. And the second one came on May 29, lofting the robotic Tianzhou 2 cargo craft, which was packed with more than 6.6 tons of supplies and is still attached to the core module.
Rong Yi, the rocket’s chief designer, said it was hard to see it go. “We have invested so much energy. But I am thrilled to see it fulfill its duty within 10 minutes.” The mission will send the crew to the core module of the planned space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace), which is still under construction in a low Earth orbit.
Huang Weifen, one of the chief designers on the manned space program, said that during the mission, the crew will be using new spacewalk suits as well as a new spacecraft. The spacecraft will dock with the core module about six and a half hours after launch. The crew will stay in orbit for three months, during which the life support system and maintenance will be tested. “The possibility of various problems is quite high. So for the astronauts, emergency decision-making and troubleshooting capabilities are also very high requirements,” Huang explained.
Ji Qiming, China Manned Space Mission Agency Assistant Director, believes that in the near future, when the Chinese space station is complete with Chinese and foreign astronauts taking on joint missions. “Exploring the vast universe, developing space activities and building a powerful space nation is our unremitting space dream,” he said at a press conference.
It must be noted that China’s space program has expanded rapidly in the past decade, in the last seven months alone, the country’s scientists have already successfully landed exploratory rovers on the moon in December and on Mars in May.