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China on Saturday sent three astronauts to its space station for a record-setting six-month run, as the country moves to complete the new orbiting outpost.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft carrying three astronauts was launched on a Long March-2F rocket at 12:25 a.m. Saturday.

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Two men and one woman are the second crew to visit the space station, which was launched last April. The first team lasted three months.

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The new crew includes two veterans of space travel. 55-year-old Zhai Zhigang and 41-year-old Wang Yaping and 41-year-old Ye Guangfu, who are making their first voyage to space.

The crew was seen by a military band and supporters singing “Ode to the Motherland,” underscoring the weight of the national pride invested in China’s space program that has grown rapidly in recent years.

They will conduct three spacewalks to install equipment in preparation for the station’s expansion, assess living conditions in the Tianhe module, and conduct experiments in space medicine and other fields.

Chinese crew enters new space station module for 3-month mission

China’s military-run space program plans to send multiple crews over the next two years to make the station fully functional.

When completed with two more volumes – named Mengtian and Ventian – the station will weigh around 66 tons, a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighed in on completion. Will be around 450 tons.

Two additional Chinese modules are scheduled to be launched before the end of next year during the not-yet-designated Shenzhou-14 crew stay.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday reiterated its commitment to cooperate with other countries in the peaceful use of space.

Spokesman Zhao Lijian said sending humans into space was the “common cause of mankind”, and that China would “continue to expand the depth and breadth of international cooperation and exchanges” in crewed spacecraft and “discover the mystery”. will make a positive contribution to the “universe.”

China was kept out of the International Space Station due to the secret nature of the Chinese program and US objections to the close military ties, prompting it to launch two experimental modules before launching on the permanent station.

US law requires congressional approval for liaison between the US and Chinese space programs, but China is collaborating with space experts from countries including France, Sweden, Russia and Italy. Chinese officials have said they look forward to hosting astronauts from other countries once the space station is fully functional.

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China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts since 2003, when it became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a man into space on its own. Two Chinese astronauts have flown twice.

China has also expanded its work on lunar and Mars exploration, including placing a rover on the little-discovered far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.

China also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars this year, whose Jurong rover is searching for evidence of life on the Red Planet.

Other Chinese space programs call for collecting soil from an asteroid and bringing back additional lunar samples. China has also expressed aspirations to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.