Beijing: In a landmark step in establishing Beijing as a major space power, China’s first astronauts blasted off on Thursday for the longest crewed mission of the nation’s history. The trio blasted off from Jiuquan launch center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert at 9:22 am (0122 GMT) on a Long March-2F rocket for the Tiangong station, where they will spend three months.
A live feed from inside the ISS showed three astronauts lifting their helmet visors and one smiling and waving at the camera. One floated a pen in zero gravity as he read the flight manual. Cameras outside the spacecraft showed images of the Earth below.
‘According to reports from the Beijing aerospace control centre, the Long March-2F rocket has sent the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft to the pre-set orbit,’ stated Zhang Zhifen, director of the Jiuquan satellite launch center. ‘The solar panels unfolded successfully and now we declare the Shenzhou-12 mission a complete success. At a ceremony before blast off, the three astronauts, already dressed in their spacesuits, greeted supporters in the crowd.
In honor of the occasion, space workers and their families sang the patriotic song ‘Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no new China’, waving Chinese flags and flowers. Nie Haisheng, a decorated air force pilot in the People’s Liberation Army who has been on two space missions, will be the mission’s commander. The two other members are also military personnel.
The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft will dock with the Tianhe main section of the space station, which was launched into orbit on April 29. The module contains separate living quarters for the astronauts, a treadmill for exercise, and a communications center for emails and video calls with ground control. Chinese officials are preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a massive propaganda campaign. This is the first crewed mission by China in nearly five years. Prior to the mission, the crew underwent more than 6,000 hours of training, including hundreds of underwater somersaults in full space gear.
Up until the end of next year, Beijing will fly 11 launches, which include three manned flights intended to deliver lab modules, supplies, and crew members to the 70-tonne station. In the first crew, systems will be tested and maintained, spacewalks will be conducted and scientific experiments conducted. Chinese space ambitions have been shaped in part by a US ban on astronauts from the International Space Station. The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it might perform beyond 2028. Tiangong will have a lifespan of at least 10 years.