JIUQUAN | They are gone. Three Chinese astronauts board the first manned spacecraft to the “Heavenly Palace” where Beijing meets in front of the International Space Station.
During the schedule, the Long-March 2F rocket left its launch pad at the Jiuquan Space Launch Center at 9:22 a.m. in the Gobi Desert (northwest).
This is the first manned aircraft for China in nearly five years and a record time in space in the eyes of the Asian giant: three astronauts, whose names have not been revealed until Wednesday, will be in orbit for three months.
Amidst tensions with Western nations, the mission’s success is a matter of pride for Beijing, which is preparing to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CCP) on July 1.
The three soldiers took their seats on the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, which will dock with the station’s only module already in space. Control center and astronauts residence, this module was placed in low Earth orbit (350-390 km altitude) in late April.
On board, the astronauts will be idle: maintenance, equipment installation, space walks, preparation for upcoming construction activities and accommodation of future personnel.
The size of patriotism
When completed, the Chinese space station, known as Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), will be similar to the former Soviet Mir Station (1986-2001). Its lifespan is at least 10 years.
China has decided to build its own space center after the United States refused to participate in the International Space Station (ISS).
The second – which includes the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is set to retire in 2028, although NASA has announced an extension beyond 2028.
“We are ready to cooperate with any country committed to the peaceful use of outer space,” Xi Qing, a senior official with the China Human Mandate Flight Agency (CMSA), said on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his American colleague Shane Kimbro did not embark on a more than seven-hour spacewalk to deploy the next-generation solar panel outside the ISS.
Before they left, the mission commander, along with Nei Heisheng, Liu Booming and Tang Hongbo, bade farewell to their relatives and colleagues at a strong patriotic event, during which the old revolutionary refrain erupted: “There can be no new China without the Communists”.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the three astronauts sent a military salute to journalists, ahead of a big agenda with five stars.
Ni Heisheng, who has already operated two spacecraft, emphasized the patriotic aspect of the operation.
“For decades we have been writing wonderful chapters in Chinese space history and our goal is to meet the expectations of the people and the party,” he said.
The trio trained for more than 6,000 hours, in which they were accustomed to tossing and turning weightless rides in a pool in space yachts.
“We fought every minute to make our space dream come true,” said Liu Booming, one of the crew. “I was trained by dedicating myself to the cause.”
In their capsule, the three soldiers have a choice between 120 meals during the meal and are able to train on the treadmill to stay in shape.