As­tro­nauts em­bark on long­est mis­sion

China launches Shen­zhou XI space­craft for trip to Tian­gong II space lab­o­ra­tory

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI in Bei­jing zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China launched the Shen­zhou XI manned space­craft on Mon­day morn­ing to trans­port two as­tro­nauts to the Tian­gong II space lab­o­ra­tory.

The space­craft was sent sky­ward at 7:30 am atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in North­west China. It car­ries two male as­tro­nauts – 49-year-old Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

Af­ter the launch, the space­craft would travel two days be­fore dock­ing with the Tian­gong II, which was lifted from the Ji­uquan cen­ter in mid-Septem­ber. Then the as­tro­nauts will en­ter the space lab and stay there for 30 days, which will be the long­est space stay by Chi­nese as­tro­nauts.

The core tasks of the Shen­zhou XI mis­sion are to test ren­dezvous and dock­ing tech­nolo­gies for the coun­try’s planned space sta­tion, to ver­ify the life sup­port ca­pa­bil­ity of the space­craft-space lab com­bi­na­tion as well as con­duct sci­en­tific re­search and test en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­i­ment, ac­cord­ing to Wu Ping, deputy di­rec­tor of the China Manned Space Agency.

Prior to the Shen­zhou XI, China had sent five space­craft and 10 as­tro­nauts to the space since 2003 when it lifted the Shen­zhou V to carry the na­tion’s first astro­naut Yang Li­wei, who is now a se­nior space of­fi­cial, into space.

China is the third coun­try in the world that has in­de­pen­dently ful­filled manned space­flight fol­low­ing the for­mer Soviet Union and the United States.

China’s manned space pro­gram, a source of na­tional pride, aims to put a per­ma­nent manned space sta­tion, which will con­sist of three parts -- a core mod­ule at­tached to two labs, each weigh­ing about 20 met­ric tons -- into ser­vice around 2022, ac­cord­ing to the manned space agency.

Jing will cel­e­brate his 50th birth­day in the space sta­tion. He be­comes the na­tion’ s first astro­naut to take a third trip into space. The as­tro­nauts will re­main in the space lab for 30 days, mak­ing it the long­est stay in space by Chi­nese as­tro­nauts, said Wu Ping deputy di­rec­tor and spokes­woman for the China Manned Space Agency. Be­fore Shen­zhou XI, China had launched five Shen­zhou space creaft and 10 as­tro­nauts. The na­tion’s first astro­naut, Yang Li­wei, was car­ried aloft by Shen­zhou V in 2003. Yang is now a se­nior space of­fi­cial.

The Tian­gong II lab, two cab­ins with sep­a­rate func­tions. The ex­per­i­ment cabin will serve as liv­ing quar­ters, while the re­source cabin will

con­tain so­lar panels, bat­ter­ies, pro­pel­lant and en­gines.

The space lab is op­er­at­ing in a dock­ing or­bit 393 kilo­me­ters above the Earth and is in good con­di­tion, ac­cord­ing to Wu.

The mis­sion com­man­der, Jing, is an ex­pe­ri­enced space trav­eler who was ont he Shen­zhou VII mis­sion in 2008 and Shen­zhou IX in 2012.

Chen is the first man in the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese as­tro­nauts to make a space­flight. Two of his fe­male coun­ter­parts in the group, Liu Yang and Wang Yap­ing, have trav­eled to space, be­com­ing na­tional hero­ines in the process.

“Both Jing and Chen are able to pi­lot the space­craft, ex­e­cute the dock­ing process, man­age the space­craft-space lab com­bi­na­tion and han­dle pos­si­ble emer­gen­cies,” Wu said. “They will work eight hours each day and six days each week. We pre­pared more than 100 kinds of food and bev­er­ages for them in space. They can use the tread­mill and ex­er­cise bike in Tian­gong II and can com­mu­ni­cate with their fam­ily via video, au­dio and email.”

In ad­di­tion, a ground space re­mote med­i­cal sup­port sys­tem — the first of its kind in China — will be used for this mis­sion.

Jing and Chen, who also met with re­porters at the Ji­uquan cen­ter on Sun­day, ex­pressed con­fi­dence in the mis­sion and grat­i­tude to the na­tion’s space work­ers, other Chi­nese as­tro­nauts and their fam­ily mem­bers.

PHO­TOS BY FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

Chi­nese as­tro­nauts Jing Haipeng (right) and Chen Dong at the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in north­west China on mon­day. The Shen­zhou XI manned space­craft blasts off from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in North­west China on Mon­day.

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