Astronauts (LR) Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming will drive to the launch site of the Senzhou-12 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 17, 2021 in Jiuquan, Gansu Province, China.
Chen Xiao | Aerospace Knowledge | VCG | Getty Images
GUANGZHOU, China – China carried the first astronauts to its self-developed space station on Thursday.
The move is an important step as the world’s second largest economy seeks to upgrade its space capabilities and challenge the US
The three astronauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo – were picked up from a Shenzhou-12 spacecraft launched on a Long March 2F rocket around 9:22 a.m. Chinese time. It started from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest of the country.
It is the first time since 2016 that China has sent a manned mission into space. If successful, it will be great pride as Beijing prepares for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.
Beijing has made space exploration a top priority as China seeks to challenge the US in a number of areas of technology.
China expects its self-developed three-module space station to be fully operational by 2022.
In April it launched one of the modules that will make up the “Tianhe” space station, which will serve as living space for the astronauts. And last month, China sent the Tianzhou-2 cargo space probe to dock with Tianhe. This spaceship contains supplies such as food for the astronauts.
China will conduct 11 missions this year and will be the next to complete construction of the space station, including four manned missions.
The three astronauts sent to the space station on Thursday will spend three months there to test the technologies required to build and operate the space station, such as life support mechanisms and in-orbit maintenance, and also to conduct space walks.
The space station will have separate sleeping areas and room-floor communication.
China is prohibited from sending its astronauts to the International Space Station, which is a cooperation between the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. That fueled his ambition to build his own space station that is expected to remain in operation for at least 10 years. The ISS could meanwhile be retired in 2024.