It may be the Americans, with NASA and SpaceX at the helm, who are ahead of the race in the space game, but the rest of the world is catching up as well. After the last Chinese rocket landed wonderfully in a fiery explosion, the news that yet another Chinese spacecraft was being launched came with a lot of apprehensions. Thankfully, the spacecraft carrying three astronauts to space as part of China’s longest crewed mission to date went off without a hitch.
The three astronauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo – are set to spend three months on the new Tiangong space station which is still under construction and lies some 236 miles above our planet. The astronauts launched on a Long March-2F rocket transporting the Shenzhou-12, or “Divine Vessel,” spacecraft at 9:22 AM Beijing Time from the Jiuquan launch center in northwest China’s Gobi desert. The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft will be docking in the main section of the space station, named Tianhe (which consists of separate living spaces for each of the three astronauts, a treadmill for exercise, and a communication center for emails and video calls with ground control).
This launch also marks China’s first crewed mission in nearly five years. The spacecraft separated from the rocket about 10 minutes into reaching orbit.
“According to reports from the Beijing aerospace control center, the Long March-2F rocket has sent the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft to the preset orbit. The solar panels unfolded successfully and now we declare the Shenzhou-12 mission a complete success,” said Zhang Zhifen, director of the Jiuquan satellite launch center. The launch of the rocket was broadcasted live.
In the three months the trio will spend in space, their main task would be to bring the Tianhe module into service. Ahead of the launch, Haisheng had said that he had a lot of expectations, and they needed to set up their new home in space and test its technologies, including its life-support system. He added that the mission would be tough and challenging, but he believed that the challenges could be overcome with the three of them working together, doing thorough and accurate operations. Haisheng is a veteran and a decorated air force police in China’s People’s Liberation Army, and all three astronauts would be monitored for how they fare in space physically and psychologically for the period they spend in space.