China created history on Jun 17th in Beijing’s ambitious program to establish itself as a space power. Consequently, the first crew of three Chinese astronauts arrived at China’s new space station, Tiangong, yesterday.
The journey into space
The crew lifted off in the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft from the Jiuquan launch center in a Long March – 2F rocket. The center is in China’s northwest Gobi desert. Later, the Shenzhou 12 successfully separated from the Long March – 2F rocket.
In a live feed from inside the spacecraft, the astronauts lifted their helmet visors once the craft reached orbit. One astronaut could be seen smiling and waving at the camera.
After seven hours, the craft successfully docked at Tiangong station, which will be home to them for the next three months.
Living quarters for the next three months
The first task for the astronauts will be the setting up of their living quarters. Today they expect to open the door connecting to the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft. The Tianzhou-2 docked earlier at the space station.
Astronauts on board Shenzhou-12
Nie Haisheng, 56, an astronaut and decorated air force pilot in the Peoples Liberation Army, is commanding this mission. Nie is a highly experienced astronaut having travelled into space before. He has participated in two previous space missions, namely the Shenzhou-6 (in 2005) and Shenzhou-10 (in 2013) missions.
Nie is accompanied by Operator 1, 54 year old Liu Boming, a fighter jet pilot. Liu is a major general in the Peoples Liberation Army.
Operator 2 as well as the youngest crew member, is 45 year old Tang Hongbo. Tang was a back-up astronaut for the Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016.
Congratulations come in from international communities
One of the first agencies to congratulate China is none other than America’s NASA. Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, “Congratulations to China on the successful launch of crew to their space station! I look forward to the scientific discoveries to come”.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted “This is a great achievement”.
Joining in the congratulations is the European Space Agency. The agency tweeted, “Congratulations to the China National Space Administration on the launch of three ‘taikonauts’ on their Shenzhou-12 mission to the Tianhe (Heavenly Harmony) space station”.
China also received congratulatory messages from other international agencies and experts from around the world.
A matter of national prestige
This is China’s first crewed spaceflight mission in nearly five years. It comes as the government prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz. Therefore this space mission is a matter of national prestige to China.
China’s space mission plans
The China Manned Space Agency has plans for 11 launches until the end of 2022. This includes three more manned missions to deliver two lab modules to expand the Tiangong station.
Tiangong and the ISS
The International Space Station (ISS) is a joint-collaboration between Japan, Europe, Russia, the US and Canada. A ban on Chinese astronauts to access the ISS by the US, has only fuelled China’s space ambitions.
Tiangong station went into orbit on Apr 29th, and expects to have a lifespan of at least 10 years. On the other hand, the ISS is due to retire after 2024 although NASA says it can operate beyond 2028.
China is open to work on international collaboration on Tiangong station, although no specific details are out yet.
Space programme chief designer Zhou Jianping, says, “Foreign astronauts are certainly going to enter the Chinese space station one day”.
18h June 2021 23:00
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