China launches its long­est crewed space mis­sion yet

Me­thod­i­cal progress in com­par­a­tively short time

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

BEI­JING: Two Chi­nese as­tro­nauts be­gan the coun­try’s long­est crewed space mis­sion yes­ter­day, blast­ing off on a space­craft for a 30-day stay on an ex­per­i­men­tal space sta­tion as China stead­fastly nav­i­gates its way to be­com­ing a space su­per­power.

Ahead of the launch, one astro­naut shouted: “We are ready! Please give in­struc­tions!” in front of dozens of peo­ple dressed in col­or­ful dress rep­re­sent­ing China’s eth­nic mi­nori­ties, in footage shown promi­nently on Chi­nese TV. The com­man­der-in-chief of the manned space pro­gram, Gen. Zhang Youxia, replied: “Pro­ceed!” fol­lowed by blar­ing march­ing mu­sic as the as­tro­nauts boarded a bus to take them to the launch pad. China, Rus­sia and the United States are the only coun­tries that have in­de­pen­dently launched hu­mans into space, and while the oth­ers have more ex­pe­ri­ence in manned space travel, China’s mil­i­tary-backed pro­gram has made me­thod­i­cal progress in com­par­a­tively short time. The launch is China’s sixth manned mis­sion, the pre­vi­ous long­est be­ing about two weeks.

For this mis­sion, the as­tro­nauts will dock their space­craft with the Tian­gong 2 sta­tion within two days, con­duct ex­per­i­ments in medicine and space-re­lated tech­nolo­gies, and test sys­tems and pro­cesses in prepa­ra­tion for the launch­ing of the sta­tion’s core mod­ule in 2018. A fully func­tion­ing space sta­tion is on course to be­gin op­er­at­ing six years from now and slated to run for at least a decade.

‘More deeply and more broadly’

The Shen­zhou 11 space cap­sule blasted off from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter on the edge of the Gobi Desert in north­ern China at 7:30 am (2330 GMT) aboard a Long March-2F car­rier rocket. Zhang de­clared the launch a suc­cess 16 min­utes later. De­fense Min­is­ter Fan Chang­long then read a con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage from Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping call­ing for China’s as­tro­nauts to ex­plore space “more deeply and more broadly.”

Since China con­ducted its first crewed space mis­sion in 2003, it has staged a space­walk and landed its Yutu rover on the moon. The Tian­gong, or “Heav­enly Palace,” space sta­tions are con­sid­ered step­ping stones to a mis­sion to send a rover to Mars by the end of the decade. Ad­min­is­tra­tors sug­gest a crewed land­ing on the moon may also be in the pro­gram’s fu­ture.

The Shen­zhou 11 as­tro­nauts are Jing Haipeng, who is fly­ing his third mis­sion, and 37year-old Chen Dong.

“It is any astro­naut’s dream and pur­suit to be able to per­form many space mis­sions,” Jing, who turns 50 dur­ing his time in space, told a brief­ing Sun­day. China was ex­cluded from the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion mainly due to US con­cerns over the Chi­nese space pro­gram’s strongly mil­i­tary char­ac­ter. Chi­nese of­fi­cials are now look­ing to in­ter­na­tion­al­ize their own pro­gram by of­fer­ing to help finance other coun­tries’ mis­sions to Tian­gong 2, which, at 60 tons when com­pleted, would still be con­sid­er­ably smaller than the 420-ton ISS. China’s space pro­gram also opened a fourth space­craft launch site at Wen­chang on the is­land prov­ince of Hainan in June. It was in­au­gu­rated with the launch of the newly de­vel­oped Long March 7 rocket that was hailed as a break­through in the use of safer, more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fu­els.

China is de­vel­op­ing the Long March 5 heavylift rocket needed to launch the Tian­gong 2’s ad­di­tional com­po­nents and other mas­sive pay­loads. A source of enor­mous na­tional pride, China’s space pro­gram plans a to­tal of 20 mis­sions this year at a time when the US and other coun­tries’ pro­grams are seek­ing new roles.

— AP

JI­UQUAN: In this photo re­leased by Xin­hua News Agency, the Long March-2F car­rier rocket car­ry­ing China’s Shen­zhou 11 manned space­craft blasts off from the launch pad at the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter.

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