China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts into its new space station, designated as the longest crew mission in the country so far, state media reported, the latest landmark in Beijing’s mission to become a major extraterrestrial power.
Three people exploded shortly after midnight (10,000 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch site in China’s Gobi Desert, the state news agency Xinhua reported, adding that the team is expected to spend six months on the Tiangong space station.
After the launch, the China-managed space agency declared it a success and said crew members were “in good shape”, according to Xinhua.
The mission will deploy equipment and test technology for future construction in Tiangong, twice as long as its 90-day predecessor.
Mission Commander Zhai Zhigang, 55, a former fighter pilot who conducted the country’s first spacewalk in 2008, said the team would do a “more complex” spacewalk than the previous mission.
The astronauts include military pilot Wang Yaping (411), who will be the first woman to visit the country’s space station since becoming China’s second woman in space in 201 space.
Another member of the team is People’s Liberation Army pilot Ye Guangfu, .1.
The previous record-breaking space crew made its first mission to Tiangong-returning to Earth in September after three months on the space station.
China’s widely publicized space program has already seen the country land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is expected to operate for at least 10 years.
Its original module entered orbit earlier this year, with the station expected to be operational by 2022.
The entire station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited the Earth from 1980 to 2001.
Chen Lan, an independent space analyst at GoTaikonauts, told AFP that the long mission was ready to “expand China’s technological frontiers” and test the capabilities of the space station system over the long period of human occupation.
“I don’t think it’s very challenging, because China’s technologies are mature enough, although anything in space is always challenging,” Chen said.
Shortly after Saturday’s eruption, China sent its first solar exploration satellite into space, equipped with a telescope to monitor the sun’s change.
The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 missions in Tiangang by the end of next year, including two more crew launches that will provide two lab modules for a tonnage station expansion.
China’s space ambitions have been somewhat fueled by U.S. sanctions on its astronauts on the International Space Station in cooperation with the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
ISS is set to retire after 2024, although NASA says it could potentially remain in effect after 2028.
The Chinese space authority has said it is open to foreign cooperation on the space station, although the scope of that cooperation is still unclear.
The country has come a long way since the first satellite in 1970.
It launched the first Chinese “tycoon” in 2003 and landed the Chang’-4 robot on a remote part of the moon in 2019 এটি a historic first.
China is the second country to land and operate a rover on Mars in May.
The Tiangang space station will have a separate space for astronauts, exercise equipment and a communication center for email and video calls with ground control.
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