Beijing, June 17: Moving one step forward to complete its most ambitious project, China on Thursday launched the first three crew members through its Shenzhou-12 spaceship to its new space station. It is China's longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years.
Shenzhou-12 capsule successfully took off atop its Long March 2F rocket. Lift-off from the Jiuquan satellite launch center in the Gobi desert was at 09:22 Beijing time.
In few minutes after the launch, the mission control announced that the launch was a complete success. After about 10 minutes it separated from the rocket's upper section, extended its solar panels, and shortly afterward entered orbit. 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. The astronauts will be stationed in the core module.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo are the name of the three astronauts, who will spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth.
The three men will test the module`s technologies including its life-support system. The men will also be monitored for how they fare in space physically and psychologically for an extended period. The primary objective for Commander Nie Haisheng and his team on the Shenzhou-12 mission is to bring the 22.5-tonne Tianhe module into service.
Nie Haisheng, who is said to be China's oldest astronaut in space, said, "We need to set up our new home in space and test a series of new technologies. So, the mission is tough and challenging. I believe with the three of us working closely together, doing thorough and accurate operations, we can overcome our challenges. We have the confidence to complete the mission."
In 2016, two male astronauts — Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng — were sent via the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to Tiangong-2, a prototype of the space station where they later stayed for about a month.
It should be noted that China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of U.S. objections to the Chinese program's secrecy and close military ties. However, China has been stepping up cooperation with Russia and a host of other countries, and its station may continue operating beyond the International Space Station, which is reaching the end of its functional life.