China successfully launched three astronauts into space on Thursday, bringing the country one step closer to completing its new space station.The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, or Divine Vessel, was launched on a Long March-2F carrier rocket Thursday morning, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert.The mission will send the crew to the core module of the planned space station, called Tiangong or Heavenly Palace, which is still under construction in a low Earth orbit.
The spacecraft will dock with the core module about six and a half hours after launch, according to state media CCTV. The crew will stay in orbit for three months, during which the life support system and maintenance will be tested. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first crewed mission and the third launch of a total of 11 launches for China’s space station construction. This is also China’s first manned mission in nearly five years. During the three months, two astronauts will conduct two long-duration spacewalks.
After this mission, another three crewed spacecraft and two laboratory modules will be sent to the space station, with the aim of completing its construction by the end of 2022. Huang Weiden, one of the chief designers on the manned space program said that during the mission the crew will be using new spacewalk suits as well as a new spacecraft. “The possibility of various problems is quite high. So for the astronauts, emergency decision-making and troubleshooting capabilities are also very high requirements,” said Huang.