China Launches First Manned Space Flight In Five Years
On June 17th, China successfully launched its Shenzhou-12, its first manned space mission since 2016.
Shenzhou-12, meaning “Divine Vessel”, lifted off at about 01:22 GMT from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, according to the live video broadcast on state television, CCTV.
The spacecraft docked with the country’s space station Thursday afternoon, China’s space agency said, around seven hours after blasting off.
The Shenzhou-12 craft “successfully docked with the forward port of the core module” of the Tiangong station, according to a statement from the China Manned Space Agency.
The launch was carried with a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
Three astronauts were on board – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo.
In the CCTV live video, two of the three astronauts made an “OK” hand gesture as Shenzhou crossed the Earth’s atmosphere and following the critical separation of the four boosters.
“The flight was perfectly smooth,” Chen Shanguang, deputy director of China’s manned space programme, was quoted by news reports as saying.
“This is the first step. There are many challenges ahead.”
After entering orbit, the spaceship will conduct a fast automated “rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe”, according to CCTV.
This further accelerates China’s ambitions in space. State-owned Global Times publication quoted Gao Xu, deputy director designer of the Shenzhou-12, as saying that the development of the manned spacecraft followed “the highest standards in the country’s space industry.”
In the Global Times interview, Gao referred to the spacecraft as a “vessel of life”, as it will not only ferry the three astronauts to the orbiting Tianhe core module, but is also expected to carry them home to Earth in approximately 90 days.
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) June 17, 2021
China began the construction of its space station in April 2021, and it launched Tianhe – the first of its three modules, and the largest.
In May, China became the second country to put a rover on Mars, two years after landing the first spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
Chinese astronauts have had a comparatively low international profile.
U.S. 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.
But the tables may soon turn.
The ISS may be decommissioned in 2024 if the project does not receive new funding, and China could end up being the operator of the only space station in Earth’s orbit.
“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 Qiming, assistant director at the China Manned Space Agency, told reporters in Jiuquan.
China’s space launches drew intense international attention last month after remnants of the rocket that carried the Tianhe module into space fell back to Earth with no official forecast of their expected landing location until literally the final minutes.
“We’re willing to carry out more extensive international exchanges and cooperation with other countries on the issue of debris from spacecraft and in space,” Ji said.
China’s last crewed flight mission was in 2016 when two men – 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.
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