JIUQUAN, CHINA — After their launch and arrival at the station on Thursday, three Chinese astronauts have began making China’s new space station their home for the next three months, marking another step forward in the country’s ambitious space programme.
After taking out from the Jiuquan launch site on the edge of the Gobi Desert, their Shenzhou-12 ship linked with the station around six hours later.
Commander Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and space rookie Tang Hongbo opened the hatches and floated inside the Tianhe-1, the station’s core residential module, around three hours later. They have photographed unloading equipment and turning to the camera at one point to welcome and congratulate spectators on Earth.
On its nightly news, official broadcaster CCTV remarked, “This symbolises the first time Chinese have entered their own space station.”
Since 2003, when it became just the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to send astronauts into space on their own, China has flown 14 astronauts into space. As the governing Communist Party prepares to commemorate its centenary next month, China’s authorities believe that the goal will be a full success.
Despite the fact that contact between the Chinese space programme and NASA is restricted by US law, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a statement on Thursday congratulating China on the successful launch of the crew to their space station, saying, “Congratulations to China on the successful launch of the crew to their space station!” I eagerly anticipate future scientific breakthroughs.”
The mission is the third in a series of 11 that will connect the Tianhe-1 to two laboratory modules and send up personnel and supplies over the following year. Experiments will be conducted, equipment will be tested, and future missions will be prepared by the present crew.
In three months, a new crew and supplies will be dispatched. When crews are swapped, each crew will have three people, with the station’s capacity set at six. Women have already served as astronauts for China, and future crews on the station will include women.
Uniformed military members and youngsters carrying flowers and flags and singing patriotic songs greeted the astronauts as they boarded the Shenzhou-12, which was launched into orbit atop a Long March-2F Y12 rocket at 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) on Thursday Beijing time.
About two minutes into the flight, the rocket’s boosters were released, followed by the cowling that encircled the crew’s ship. It detached from the rocket’s top part after approximately 10 minutes, extended its solar panels, and entered orbit shortly after.
At around 4 p.m., a half-dozen modifications helped align the ship with the Tianhe-1, or Heavenly Harmony, module (0800 GMT).
The mission’s deputy chief designer, Gao Xu, told state broadcaster CCTV that the trip time is down from the two days it took to reach China’s earlier experimental space stations as a consequence of “a great many achievements and improvements.”
“So the astronauts may get some rest in orbit and be less wary,” Gao explained.
Other enhancements include a rise in the amount of automated and remote-controlled devices, which Gao claims would “substantially reduce the burden on the astronauts.”
China is not a member of the International Space Station, owing to US concerns about the secrecy of Chinese programmes and strong military connections. China, on the other hand, has been building up collaboration with Russia and a slew of other nations, and their station may be able to operate after the International Space Station, which is nearing the end of its useful life, is decommissioned.
Foreigners may be part of future crews on the station when it is completely constructed next year, according to Chinese space authorities.
Last month, China launched a probe on Mars with a rover, the Zhurong, and earlier this year landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less-explored far side, returning the first lunar samples by any country’s space programme since the 1970s.
This week, China and Russia presented an ambitious proposal for a joint International Lunar Research Station that would run until 2036. The international Artemis Accords, a roadmap for space cooperation that supports NASA’s aspirations to return people to the moon by 2024 and undertake a historic human trip to Mars, might compete and perhaps clash with this.
The rocket that took the Tianhe-1 into orbit experienced an uncontrolled return to Earth after its launch in April. Discarded rocket stages usually return to the atmosphere shortly after liftoff, overseas, and do not enter orbit.
At the time, China downplayed concerns about a potential safety issue, and authorities said the rocket launched Thursday was of a different type, with reentering components anticipated to burn up before posing a threat.