Beijing: China’s Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, carrying three Chinese astronauts, docked at its space station on Saturday and began a record-breaking six-month stay as the country moves towards the completion of the new outpost in orbit.
The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-2F rocket at 12.23 p.m. on Saturday and docked with the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station at 6.56 a.m., about six and a half hours later.
The two men and a woman are the second crew to enter the space station, which was launched last April. The first crew stayed three months.
The new crew includes two aerospace veterans. Zhai Zhigang, 55, and Wang Yaping, 41, and Ye Guangfu, 41, who is making his first trip into space.
They were bid farewell by a military band and supporters singing “Ode to the Motherland,” which underscores the weight of national pride that has been invested in the space program, which has advanced rapidly in recent years.
The crew will undertake three space walks to install equipment for upgrading the station, assess living conditions in the Tianhe module, and conduct experiments in space medicine and other areas.
China’s military space program plans to send multiple crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully operational.
When completed with two more sections – Mengtian and Wentian – the station will weigh around 66 tons, much less than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 450 tons.
Two more Chinese modules are to be launched before the end of next year during the stay of the Shenzhou-14 crew, who has yet to be named.
China’s foreign ministry on Friday renewed its commitment to collaborate with other nations in the peaceful uses of space.
Spokesman Zhao Lijian said it is a “common cause of humanity” to send people into space. China will “continue to expand the depth and breadth of international cooperation and exchange” in manned spaceflight and make positive contributions to the exploration of the mysteries of the universe, “he said.
China was excluded from the International Space Station mainly because of US objections to the secret nature of the Chinese program and close military ties.
US law requires Congressional approval for contact between the American and Chinese space programs, but China is working with space experts from other countries, including France, Sweden, Russia, and Italy. Chinese officials said they look forward to hosting astronauts from other countries aboard the space station once it is fully operational.
Missions in the past
Since 2003, China has launched seven manned missions with a total of 14 astronauts on board – two have flown twice – since 2003, when it was only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to take a person into space.
China has also expanded its lunar and Mars exploration work, including landing a rover on the under-explored back of the moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
This year, China also landed its Tianwen-1 spacecraft on Mars, with its companion rover Zhurong looking for evidence of life on the red planet.
Other Chinese space programs require Earth to be collected from an asteroid and additional lunar samples to be brought along.
China has also expressed a desire to land humans on the moon and possibly establish a scientific base there, although no timetable has been proposed for such projects. A very secret space plane is also reportedly under development.
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