(ORDO NEWS) — Three Chinese astronauts arrived at the space station on Sunday, the China Manned Space Agency said, the latest step towards Beijing’s goal of becoming a major space power.
The trinity launched into space. The Long March 2F rocket at 02:44 GMT from the Jiuquan Space Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The team is tasked with “completing the assembly and construction of the space station in orbit.” as well as “commissioning equipment” and conducting scientific experiments, state-run CGTN said on Saturday.
The astronauts entered the central module of the Tiangong station around 1250 GMT, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said. The journey took about “a seven hour flight” according to CCTV.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
China’s highly publicized space program has already landed a rover on Mars and sent probes to the moon.
The Shenzhou 14 is led by 43-year-old Air Force pilot Chen Dong, with a crew of three. The main task will be to connect the two laboratory modules of the station to the main building.
Dong, along with fellow pilots Liu Yang and Cai Xiuzhe, will be the second crew to spend six months aboard the Tiangong after the latter’s return. back to Earth in April after 183 days on the space station.
The Tiangong core module entered orbit early last year and is expected to operate for at least a decade.
The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station, which orbited the Earth from the 1980s to 2001.
The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military space program, with hopes of building a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending people to the moon.
The country has made great strides to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have years of experience in space exploration.
But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans to realize its much-touted “space dream” have been jeopardized.
In addition to the space station, Beijing also plans to build a base on the moon, and the country’s National Space Administration has said it intends to launch a manned lunar mission by 2029.
China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from interacting with the country.
While China has no plans to use its space station for ISS-wide global cooperation, Beijing has said it is open to foreign cooperation.
The ISS is due to be decommissioned after 2024, although NASA has stated that it can operate until 2030.
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