Chinese astronauts explode into space as construction enters high gear

  • The Chinese space station is expected to be built by the end of 2022
  • Shenzhou-14 astronauts oversee the arrival of the final two blocks
  • Space station to mark permanent Chinese residence in space

BEIJING, June 5 (Reuters) – China on Sunday sent three astronauts on a six-month voyage to oversee a key period in the construction of its space station, with its final modules set to begin in the coming months.

The space station, by the end of the year, will mark a significant milestone in China’s three – decade manned space program, first approved in 1992 and initially codenamed “Project 921”. It will also mark the beginning of permanent Chinese residence in space.

The mass construction of one-fifth of the International Space Station (ISS) is a source of pride for ordinary Chinese people.

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The Long March-2F rocket, used in 2003 to launch China’s first team spacecraft on the Shenzhou-5, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Kobe Desert in northwest China at 10:44 am (0244 GMT). The Shenzhou-14, or “Divine Ship” and its three astronauts, were broadcast live on state television.

“I saw the release of Shenzhou-5 when I was a primary student, and now we have Shenzhou-14,” social media developer Janna Zhang told Reuters.

“Of course I’m very excited, and I’m very proud to be a Chinese. We’re one step closer to becoming a superpower in space,” the 25-year-old said.

Construction began in April last year with the introduction of the first and largest of its three blocks, Tianhe – the abode of visiting astronauts. The Ventian and Mengion laboratory modules are scheduled to launch in July and October, respectively.

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Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong, 43, and crew members Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46, will live and work on the space station for about 180 days before returning to Earth’s second Chinese astronauts in December. With the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.

‘Pivotal War’

Former Air Force pilot Chen and Kai, who debuted in space with Liu, China’s first female astronaut in space a decade ago, will oversee the meeting, docking and coordination with the main contingent of Ventian and Mengdian.

They will install equipment inside and outside the space station and carry out various scientific research.

“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a major battle during the construction phase of China’s space station,” Chen told a news conference in Jiuquan on Saturday. “The task will be harder, there will be more problems and the challenges will be greater.”

When completed, the T-shaped space station will accommodate up to 25 laboratory shelves, each of which will be used to conduct micro lab tests. Wentian will support bioscience research while focusing on Mengtian microgravity experiments.

The Ventian will have an airlock cabin for extra vehicle travel and short-term accommodation for astronauts during group rotations.

The space station is designed to have a lifespan of at least a decade.

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Its ambition to internationalize the space station did not deter China from inviting foreign astronauts.

The deputy designer of the space station told Chinese media last year that the three-module station could be expanded into a four-module cross-section structure in the future.

Reflecting the ISS, spacecraft and modules launched by other countries are welcome to become docks and long-term members with the Chinese station. Commercial human space travel to the station is also being explored.

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Report by Ryan Woo and Ella Cao; Editing by William Mallard and Muralikumar Anandaraman

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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