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China to send the first astronauts to its self-developed space station


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China’s Long March 5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China’s space station, Tianhe, blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on April 29, 2021 in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China.

VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — China will send the first astronauts to its self-developed space station on Thursday.

The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft carrying three astronauts will be launched atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, on Thursday at 9:22 a.m. local time.

It is China’s first manned space mission since 2016 and the first time astronauts will go to the country’s new space station which is still in development.

In April, China launched one of the three main modules that will make up the space station. It is called “Tianhe” and will be the living quarters for the astronauts. And last month, China sent the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft to dock with Tianhe. This spacecraft contains supplies for the astronauts such as food.

China will carry out 11 missions this year and next to complete the construction of the space station, including four manned missions. The space station is expected to go into operation in 2022.

The three astronauts going to space on Thursday are Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo. Liu and Nie are veterans while Tang will be taking his debut flight to space. They will spend three months on the space station.

During the mission, the astronauts will test the technologies required for the construction and operation of the space station such as life support mechanisms and in-orbit maintenance.

Astronauts will have a separate living and working area as well as their own sleeping section.

China’s first self-developed space station looks to rival the International Space Station, which is a co-operative effort between the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. China is not involved.

And the first manned mission in nearly five years highlights China’s broader ambitions in the space industry.

Last year, China completed the Beidou satellite system, its rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS). And earlier this year, China landed its first unmanned spacecraft on Mars.

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