Jun 16, 2021 1 min, 22 secs

China’s first crewed spacecraft in nearly five years blasted off from the Gobi desert on Thursday morning, carrying astronauts to the new Tiangong space station.

A Long March-2F rocket carried the three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, and was expected to dock with Tianhe, the main section of the Tiangong station, about six to eight hours later.

It is China’s first human mission to space since 2016, and the longest ever scheduled, with the team expected to be on Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) for three months.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the launch appeared to go smoothly, and noted China gave it far more extensive coverage than previous human space flights, suggesting a high level of confidence.

US law bars Nasa from cooperating with Chinese astronauts, meaning none have ever been to the International Space Station (ISS), a collaboration between the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.

On Wednesday, officials said China expected foreign and Chinese astronauts to jointly participate in the Chinese space station.

McDowell said China’s plans were not for full international cooperation and interdependence, as with the ISS, but more likely centred on offering to run experiments on the Chinese station for other countries, or hosting astronauts.

McDowell said the next mission was set to last six months, so it appeared they were “beefing up their experience in keeping humans in space for long periods in time, and maintaining an active space station for long periods of time”

a permanent human mission in space … and the next few months will be critical to check everything’s working to let them do that.”


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