China successfully launches Shenzhou-16 spacecraft with three astronauts to its space station

May 30, 2023  10:29

China has achieved another milestone in its space exploration endeavors as it successfully launched the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft, carrying three new astronauts, including the country's first civilian, to its space station. The spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China on Tuesday at 9:31 a.m. local time (01:31 GMT). This significant event marks China's progress in establishing a robust presence in space.

Zou Lipeng, the director of the Jiuquan launch center, expressed satisfaction with the launch, stating that it was a "complete success" and confirming that the astronauts are in good condition. The crew will briefly overlap with the three astronauts currently aboard the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after completing their six-month mission.

The launch attracted the attention of numerous employees from the space program, many of whom reside at the complex. Excitedly capturing selfies with the rocket in the background and waving Chinese flags, they cheered loudly and shouted "Good luck" as the rocket soared into the sky, surrounded by billowing clouds of smoke.

Commander Jing Haipeng, leading the crew, is embarking on his fourth mission. Joining him are engineer Zhu Yangzhu and Beihang University professor Gui Haichao, who has the distinction of being the first Chinese civilian to travel to space. The crew's mission aboard the Tiangong station is expected to last approximately five months, during which they will conduct a series of scientific experiments. These experiments will include research on "high-precision space time-frequency systems," general relativity, and the study of the origin of life, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

The Tiangong space station, consisting of three modules, was completed at the end of last year, following a total of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions since April 2021. China's ambitious space program aims to expand the capabilities of the space outpost. The next module, scheduled to dock with the current T-shaped space station, will create a cross-shaped structure, demonstrating China's commitment to the development of its space capabilities.

China's construction of the space station was motivated by its exclusion from the International Space Station in 2011, primarily due to concerns raised by the United States regarding the Chinese space program's links with the People's Liberation Army. However, the CMSA reiterated on Monday that it actively seeks international cooperation in the Tiangong project, highlighting China's willingness to collaborate with other nations in space exploration.

As part of its future plans, China intends to send two crewed space missions to Tiangong annually, with the next mission, Shenzhou-17, scheduled for launch in October. Looking ahead, China aims to accomplish a crewed mission to the moon before 2030, showcasing its ambition to further explore the vast expanse of space.

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