China has launched three astronauts into orbit to begin the occupation of the country’s new own space station. The three men, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo are to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth.
They are set to spend three months testing different features on most components of China’s very own space station, still under construction. The trio will toil aboard the Tianhe (Harmony of the Heavens) capsule, the future station’s first module, launched in April.
China’s Long March 2F took off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China at 9.22 am local time on Thursday (1:22 am GMT). The launch, broadcast live by Chinese state media, will send the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft with three astronauts on the country’s longest manned mission to date and its first crewed mission in five years.
Speaking ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch, mission commander Nie told that the astronauts would embark “on a whole range of diagnostic tests on crucial technology and experiments” after turning the module into a proper “home” for future missions.
While the bus-sized module’s launch went off without a hitch, the Long March 5Brocket that carried it into orbit made headlines last month, prompting wild speculations and international hysteria after it was revealed that its detached stage was free-falling back to Earth at around 15,000 miles per hour.
Thursday’s launch is the third of 11 planned missions needed to complete Beijing’s first-ever space station. The launches will be spread out over a period of 18 months, and another three missions will see astronauts brought to the station.