China sent 3-man crew aboard its Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, or Divine Vessel, which was launched on a Long March-2F carrier rocket last Thursday morning, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert.
The 3 astronauts are Nie Haisheng (leader, oldest team member, recruited to the space program in 1998, former fighter pilot with the People’s Liberation Army, third time in space), Liu Boming (2nd oldest, 2nd trip on space) and Tang Hongbo (youngest, 1st space trip, despite training for 11 years). All three are members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Global Times reported — noting that the mission’s duration coincides with the Party’s 100-year anniversary, a major national event set for July 1.
This mission will send the crew to the core module of the planned space station, called Tiangong or Heavenly Palace, which is still under construction in a low Earth orbit where it will dock with the core module about six and a half hours after launch. The men will be in orbit for three months to test the life support system and maintenance. During those months, two of the astronauts will conduct two long-duration spacewalks. This Shenzhou-12 launch is the third of 11 launches to construct China’s space station and after this first crewed mission, another three crewed spacecrafts and two laboratory modules will also be sent to the space station, in order to reach the goal of completing construction by the end of 2022.
China is constructing its own space station after being denied access to the International Space Mssion (ISS) due to US political objections and legislative restrictions. In the past seven months, China’s scientists have successfully landed exploratory rovers on the moon in December and on Mars in May. The first module of the space station, which need to be assembled from different modules at the same time, was launched in April. After completion, the space station is expected to operate for 10 years.
Russia is also towing that line with its space station to potentially launch in 2030 and with the ISS to run out of funding in few years, the era of international cooperation in space could be over for good.