China launched a pair of astronauts into space on Monday on a mission to dock with an experimental space station and remain aboard for 30 days in preparation for the start of operations by a full-bore facility six years from now. The Shenzhou 11 mission took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China at 7:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
President Xi Jinping told Chinese media that the mission would “enable China to take larger and further steps in space exploration, and make new contributions to building up China as a space power.”
What is the mission?
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The two astronauts will stay in space for 30 days to test complex’s ability to support human life. They will also conduct medical and scientific experiments. Advancing China’s space program is a priority for Beijing, with President Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power. China has insisted that its space program is for peaceful purposes.
Has China launched astronauts into space before?
It is the sixth time China has launched astronauts into space. The duration of 30 days will be the longest among all of China’s manned missions to space. In a space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with a space laboratory, the Tiangong 1. The Tiangong 1 experimental space station launched in 2011 went out of service in March after docking with three visiting spacecraft and extending its mission for two years.
Who are the two astronauts?
The astronauts flying the mission are identified as 49-year-old Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong. Jing has been into space twice in the years 2008 and 2012. Jing will also celebrate his 50th birthday in the orbit.
When will the completed station begin operations?
Following the attachment of two experiment modules, the completed station is set to begin full operations in 2022 and will run for at least a decade.
What other advancements China are making towards space exploration?
China’s space program also opened its massive fourth spacecraft launch site at Wenchang on China’s southernmost island province of Hainan in June. It was inaugurated with the launch of the newly developed Long March 7 rocket that was hailed as a breakthrough in the use of safer, more environmentally friendly fuels.
China is currently developing the Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket needed to launch the Tiangong 2’s additional components and other massive payloads. China also plans to land a rover on Mars by 2020, attempting to recreate the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago. The country’s space program plans a total of 20 missions this year.
(With inputs from AP/Reuters)