China is ready to send the first crew to the country’s new space station
The Executive Headlines
The Long March 2 rocket will carry the first crew to a new space station in China.
The first crew of China’s new space station prepared to explode this week for the latest steps in Beijing’s ambitious program to establish itself as a space power. The mission is China's first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.
According to the experts, the Long March 2 rocket carrying three astronauts on the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft will take off from a base in the Gobi Desert in northwestern China on Thursday. They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China's longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their jobs.
The astronauts will aim to “get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use”, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It’s a practical goal rather than a groundbreaking one.”
The Long March rocket, with the Shenzhou craft attached, was moved to the launchpad at the Jiuquan satellite launch centre last week, according to the Chinese space agency.
Shenzhou 12 will dock with the main section of Tengu Station, Tengu, which was placed in orbit on April 29th. Last month the cargo ship transported fuel, food and equipment for crew missions.
The first Tianhe crew will be all male, though women will be part of future crews on the station, according to Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth in China’s first crewed mission in 2003 and is now an official at the space agency.
The Tianhe builds on experience China gained from operating two experimental space stations earlier in its increasingly ambitious space program. Chinese astronauts spent 33 days living on the second of the previous stations, carried out a spacewalk and taught science classes that were beamed down to students across the country.