Astronauts embark on longest mission
China launches Shenzhou XI spacecraft for trip to Tiangong II space laboratory
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.
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.