Mission is a step towards Mars
China was today due to launch the country’s latest space mission, in which two astronauts will be blasted into space and will dock with an orbiting space lab. The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft was to be launched at 7.30am, said Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office, in a televised news conference yesterday. The Shenzhou mission was to take off aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China. The spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong 2 space station within two days and the astronauts will stay there for 30 days to test the complex’s ability to support their life. They will also conduct medical and scientific experiments, Wu said. An earlier Tiangong 1 experimental space station launched in 2011 went out of service in March after extending its mission for two years and docking with three visiting spacecraft. The Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, stations are considered stepping stones to a mission to Mars by the end of the decade. Wu identified the astronauts flying the mission as 49-yearold Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong (both pictured). It will be Jing’s third flight into space. “It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” he said.