China launches longest manned space mission
> Two astronauts to spend 30 days aboard orbiting lab
BEIJING: China launched its longest manned space mission yesterday, sending two astronauts into orbit to spend a month aboard a space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
The Shenzhou-11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 7.30am from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in images carried live on state television.
The astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, which was sent into space last month. It will be the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, state media reported.
Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, met astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong early yesterday and wished them well, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation,” Fan said.
“With all the scientific and rigorous training, discreet preparation, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and tough task. We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.”
Shenzhou-11 is the third space voyage for Jing, who will command the mission and celebrate his 50th birthday in orbit.
In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with a space laboratory, the Tiangong 1.
Advancing China’s space programme is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power.
China insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes.
Shenzhou-11, which translates as “Divine Vessel”, will also carry three experiments designed by Hong Kong middle school students selected in a science competition, including one that will take silk worms into space.
The US Defence Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.
China has been working to develop its space programme for military, commercial and scientific purposes, but is still playing catch-up to established space powers the US and Russia. – Reuters
The Long March-2F carrier rocket transporting Shenzhou-11 blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre yesterday.
Jing (left) and Chen salute before the launch of Shenzhou-11 in Jiuquan yesterday.