Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

China launches first crew to live on new space station

Shenzou 12 mission patch The mission logo for the Shenzhou-12 mission that will take three Chinese astronauts to space this week. Click to enlarge
Ginger Lawrence | 17 June, 2021, 20:23

After entering orbit, the Shenzhou-12 spaceship will dock with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with Tianhe and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2.

After that they will move, assemble and test extravehicular spacesuits and perform two extravehicular activities for work including assembling an extravehicular toolbox, lifting the panoramic camera and installing extended pump sets.

The three gave final waves to the crowd, then entered the elevator to take them to the spaceship at the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China.

The astronauts will spend three months on the Tiangong station, which has separate living modules for each of them as well as a shared bathroom, dining area, and a communication centre to send emails and allow video calls with ground control.

The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first crewed mission and the third launch of a total of 11 launches for China's space station construction.

On Liu's Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, his first, he nearly did not get to perform a space walk to plant the Chinese flag on the exterior of the spacecraft.

The rocket dropped its boosters about two minutes into the flight followed by the cowling surrounding Shenzhou-12.

USA legislation bars Nasa from any cooperation with China, and Chinese astronauts have not been to the more than two-decade-old International Space Station (ISS), which has been visited by more than 240 men and women of various nationalities.

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"After the completion of the Chinese space station, in the near future, we will see both Chinese and foreign astronauts jointly participate in the flight of the Chinese space station", said Ji.

Other improvements include an increase in the number of automated and remote-controlled systems that should "significantly lessen the pressure on the astronauts", Gao said.

Another 11 missions are planned over the next year and a half to complete the construction of Tiangong in orbit, including the attachment of solar panels and two laboratory modules. This is also China's first manned mission in almost five years.

China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of US objections to the Chinese programs secrecy and close military ties.

China's desire for a human outpost of its own in Earth orbit was fuelled by a USA ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). That could compete and possibly conflict with the multinational Artemis Accords, a blueprint for space cooperation that supports NASA's plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to launch an historic human mission to Mars.

After the Tianhe was launched in April, the rocket that carried it into space made an uncontrolled reentry to Earth, though China dismissed criticism of the potential safety hazard. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don't go into orbit.

The launch will be carried out with a Long March-2F carrier rocket, which will be filled with propellant on Wednesday morning, Ji said.