Chinese astronauts launched on historic space station mission

“We’ve invested so much energy,” said Rong Yi, the rocket’s chief designer. “But I’m thrilled to see it fulfill its duty in under 10 minutes.”

Jiuquan, China – A Chinese rocket exploded Thursday from a launch pad in the Gobi Desert, sending three astronauts on a historic mission to an orbiting space station that China is building.

Huge clouds of fire and dust could be seen in the distance when the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-12 capsule veered away from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, as China’s space race with the United States and Russia gathers pace. has been

For the first time in five years, China has sent humans into space.

For Rong Yi, the rocket’s chief designer, it was hard to see it go.

“We’ve invested so much energy,” she told Granthshala News, comparing Rocket to raising a child. “But I’m thrilled to see it fulfill its duty in under 10 minutes.”

The launch platform Shenzhou-12 spacecraft and Long March-2F rocket at China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday, Kevin Fryer / Getty Images

Shenzhou-12, or “Divine Vessel”, is one of 11 planned missions to complete construction of China’s 70-ton Tiangong or Harmony of the Heavens space station, which is set to be commissioned by next year.

The astronauts will dock with the main Tianhe section of the station for three months – China’s longest crewed mission – to conduct spacewalks, maintenance work and critical tests of life support and other systems.

“I believe that in the near future, when the Chinese space station is completed, we will be able to undertake joint missions to Chinese and foreign astronauts,” Ji Qiming, assistant director of the China Manned Space Agency, said in a press conference ahead of the launch on Wednesday. But see you go.”

“Exploring the vast universe, developing space activities and building a mighty space nation is our constant space dream,” he said.

China has long been out of the International Space Station, or ISS, a project launched 20 years ago that has served as the ultimate expression of a post-Cold War reconciliation between Russia and the United States. US concerns over the secrecy of the Chinese space program and relations with its military were largely to blame.

But the old ISS, which hosted astronauts from the US, Russia and several other countries, is set to be decommissioned after 2024. As US-Russia relations deteriorate, Moscow has indicated that it may withdraw from ISS cooperation in 2025, meaning China could be the only country with a working space station.

A staff member wears the logo of China’s new space station at a news conference about the first crewed mission to China’s Tianhe Space Station.Greg Baker / AFP – Getty Images

The Russian space agency Roscosmos also signed an agreement in March with the Chinese National Space Administration to build a base on or near the Moon, which they will call the International Scientific Lunar Station.

“The first thing the US and USSR did in the Cold War is China,” said astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Now they’re at the point where they’re starting to think, ‘Okay, we’re not just copying the West anymore, we’re going to start our own’. And that’s going to be pretty interesting to see.”

Ahead of the launch, Chinese astronauts met with reporters on Wednesday inside a glass chamber to ensure they remained germ-free.

Veteran Ni Haisheng, 56, looked forward to his third trip to space, while Liu Boming, 54, took part in a 2011 mission that included China’s first spacewalk.

He was joined by Tang Hongbo, 40, who was waiting for his first trip to the stars, who was selected to train in 2010.

He said, ‘There is pressure. “But where there is pressure there is inspiration.” He said he had “belief in himself and in our team.”

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After Tianhe’s main module was successfully launched last month, state media reported that President Xi Jinping wrote a letter to Chinese engineers congratulating them on a success that earned a place in the country’s history.

However, China’s government was forced to defend itself after NASA and others acted recklessly on Beijing by allowing a rocket booster from that mission to fall uncontrollably to Earth.

Wednesday’s launch was covered on state television and celebrated as a mark of respect ahead of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary next month.

For Xi, the space station holds symbolic value in his vision of his country as “a space power in every way”.

But as China pours billions of dollars into its space programs, which include exploration of the Moon’s dark side and the rover’s recent landing on Mars, some analysts fear that a lack of international coordination could create a dangerously competitive playground in space. has been .

According to the annual threat assessment published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Beijing is working to achieve military, economic and prestige gains that match or exceed American capabilities in space, which Washington earned from space leadership.” is.”

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s Manned Space Agency, sees it differently.

“There is no doubt that America is the most advanced,” he told Granthshala News near the launch site, “regardless of scale, China develops the space program out of our country’s own need … to fulfill our own dream.” for.”

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