China’s prolific space program continues, this time with its first manned space mission for half a decade.
The launch was declared a success, safely jettisoning three elite astronauts into space, to connect with China’s space station.
In front of a throng of well-wishers, the Shenzhou-12 mission launched into outer orbit from the Jiuquan site in the Gobi Desert, Northwest China.
The astronauts are on their way to Tianhe, the core module, and one of several pieces that will eventually make up the Chinese Space Station, Tiangong.
The three-man crew includes craft commander, and one of China’s most experienced astronauts, Nie Haisheng. Nie is a three-flight veteran and at 56 years old, is now one of the oldest men to ever be in space.
He is joined by fellow astronaut, Liu Boming, and former air force pilot, Tang Hongbo. Although the latter is a space rookie, he has more than 1000 flight hours under his belt.
Once docked with the Tianhe module, the crew will be tasked with performing systems checks and experiments, and ensuring all electronics and hardware components are functional.
The trio will also be responsible for building their spacesuits. These specialised suits will allow them to perform spacewalks around Tianhe, in order to inspect important external components and use their scientific instruments to gather important information about the state of the craft and the environment around them.
Other onboard activities include managing and maintaining their physical and mental well-being.
The 16-metre long module is equipped with sleeping quarters, a single bathroom and a control panel. There is also an exercise area with a treadmill to prevent muscle atrophy and to keep their fitness up so as to complete the gruelling spacewalks.
China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) has had an eventful 2021. In May this year, the Zhurong rover successfully made contact with Mars and has been collecting important data.
In fact, many of the experiments conducted onboard Tianhe will act as support for the current Mars mission as well as lunar missions going forward.
China’s Tiangong Space Station is scheduled to be complete and fully operational next year and will remain in commission for at least a decade, according to the South China Morning Post.
When the International Space Station retires, circa 2028, Tiangong will be the largest man-made craft in space.