BEIJING , Chinese astronauts started Saturday their six-month mission to China’s first permanent station in space. They successfully docked aboard their spacecraft.
Two astronauts (a man and a woman) were seen floating around on the module before they spoke via live-streamed video.
Wang Yaping (41), who is China’s first woman to board Tiangong’s space station, is part of the new crew. She is also expected to be China’s first female spacewalker.
Wang said in the video, “We’ll cooperate with each other, carefully execute maneuvers and try to complete all tasks successfully during this round of exploring the universe.”
At 12:23 a.m. on Saturday, the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft of space travelers was launched by a Long March-2F launch rocket and docked at 6:56 AM with the Tianhe core space module.
According to the China Manned Space Agency, the three astronauts entered the station’s core module around 10 a.m.
They are the second crew to enter China’s Tiangong satellite station. It was launched in April last year. The initial crew stayed for three months.
Two space veterans, Zhai Zhigang (55) and Wang (41), are part of the new crew. Ye Guangfu (41), is the third member of the crew. This will be his first space trip.
A military band performed “Ode to the Motherland” at the launch. This was a sign of national pride in the progress made in space technology in recent years.
Three spacewalks will be conducted by the crew to test space medicine, evaluate living conditions in Tianhe, and install equipment for expansion.
China’s military-run satellite program will send several crews to the station in the next two years, to make it fully functional.
The station, when completed, will be able to support two additional sections, Mengtian or Wentian. It will weigh approximately 66 tons. This is much less than the International Space Station which launched its first module in 1998. It weighs about 450 tons.
During the Shenzhou-14 crew’s stay, two more Chinese modules will be launched.
China’s Foreign Ministry reaffirmed Friday its commitment to cooperation in peaceful space use with other countries.
Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China, stated that sending people into space is a common cause of humanity. He said China would “continue expanding the depth and breadth international cooperation and trades” in crewed flight and “make positive contributions towards the exploration of the mysteries and the universe.”
China was expelled from the International Space Station due to U.S. concerns over its secretive nature, close military ties and closely held program. China launched two experimental modules to test the waters before it began on the permanent station.
U.S. law requires that Congress approve contact between American and Chinese space programs. However, China is working with space experts from other countries, including France, Sweden and Russia. Chinese officials stated that they are looking forward to hosting astronauts from other nations aboard the space station when it is fully operational.
Since 2003, China has flown seven crewed missions and 14 astronauts on board. Two of these have been twice. This makes China the third country to launch a human spacecraft after the United States.
China has expanded its lunar and Mars exploration efforts, landing a rover at the far side of the Moon. It also returned lunar rocks to Earth for first time since 1970s.
China also launched its Tianwen-1 space probe to Mars this year. The Zhurong rover accompanying it has been searching for signs of life on the red-colored planet.
Another Chinese space program calls for the collection of soil from an asteroids and the return of additional lunar samples. China also has expressed its desire to land humans on the moon, and perhaps build a scientific base there. However, no timeline has been set. Another highly secretive space plane is being developed.