About seven hours after its launch from China, the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, with three astronauts on board, has “successfully” docked the first module of the Chinese space station under construction, in the context of technological rivalry with the United States.
It is China’s first manned space mission in five years and it will set a record of permanence for its crew, which will spend three months in space.
The success of this mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing, which is preparing to celebrate the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party (PCC) on July 1. Tiangong Station (“Celestial Palace”) rivals the International Space Station (ISS).
The rocket Long March-2F took off with the three astronauts at 09:22 local time, from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi desert in northwest China. After about 10 minutes it reached orbit and the spacecraft separated from the rocket.
State television CCTV broadcast live inside the spacecraft, where the three astronauts raised the visors of their helmets to show their smiling faces. Also, cameras placed on the outside of the spacecraft showed images of Earth.
“The solar panels were deployed normally and we can say that the launch was a success‘Said Zhang Zhifen, director of the Jiquan satellite launch center.
6,000 hours of training
The mission commander is Nie Haisheng, a decorated People’s Liberation Army pilot, who has been on two space missions. The other two crew members are also military. The trio performed more than 6,000 hours of training to get used to exits in weightlessness.
“We fight every minute to fulfill our space dream,” said Liu Boming, another member of the crew. «I trained by dedicating myself to the cause«He added.
Once completed, the “Celestial Palace” station will be similar in size to the old Soviet Mir facility (1986-2001) and is expected to have a shelf life of at least 10 years, according to the Chinese space agency.
The Shenzhou-12 mission constitutes the third release of the eleven that will be needed for the construction of the station, between 2021 and 2022. Four of those missions will be manned.
Besides of Tianhe module, which is already in orbit, the other two remaining – which will be biotechnology, medicine and astronomy laboratories– they will be sent into space next year.
In Tianhe, the astronauts They will be dedicated to maintenance work, installations, exits to space, preparation of future missions and the next stays of other crew members.
Diet and exercise
The module has a space for each of them, equipment for exercises and a communication center with ground control. In its capsule, The three soldiers will be able to choose between 120 foods at meals and train on a treadmill to stay fit.
The Chinese interest in having its own human base in Earth orbit was fueled by the American ban on their astronauts being on the ISS.
The latter – a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is due to be withdrawn in 2024, although NASA says it could potentially remain in place beyond 2028.
«We are willing to collaborate with any country that is committed to the peaceful use of space“Ji Qiming, a senior official from the China Manned Flight Agency (CMSA), told the press.