China launches Shenzhou-12 shuttle to new space station with three astronauts
China has successfully launched the Shenzhou-12 – its first manned mission in five years – further accelerating its space programme to rival the United States.
China launched three astronauts as its first crew to its new Tiangong space station on Thursday (June 17), the country's first manned spaceflight in nearly five years.
The astronauts are travelling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket that blasted off shortly after the target time of 9:22 am (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China.
The trio launched on a Long March-2F rocket for the Tiangong station, where they will spend three months, in a much-anticipated blast-off broadcast live on state TV.
After about 10 minutes it reached orbit and the space craft separated from the rocket, to loud applause in the control room among rows of blue-suited engineers.
The mission is being led by 56-year-old Nie Haisheng, accompanied by fellow spacefarers Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo who are aboard the spacecraft Shenzhou-12, according to the latest updates.
After entering orbit, the spaceship will conduct a fast automated “rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe”, according to CCTV.
The astronauts will be stationed in the core module and remain in orbit for three months.
The three-month stay for Nie, Liu, and Tang will be the longest for any Chinese astronauts, and one focus will be seeing how the men handle their relatively long time in orbit. "The (mission) is longer this time, and not only do we have to set up the core module – this ‘home’ in space – we’ve to carry out a series of pivotal technical tests," Nie told reporters in Jiuquan.
At a ceremony before blastoff, the three astronauts, already wearing their space suits, greeted a crowd of supporters and space workers, who sang the patriotic song "Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no new China"
The mission's commander is Nie Haisheng, a decorated air force pilot in the People's Liberation Army who has already participated in two space missions.
The two other members are also members of the military.
Although the Tianhe module has already received a robotic visitor last month -- the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft -- this will be the first time that humans set foot aboard it.
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