China’s new space station welcomes astronauts for record stay

China's new space station

Image: Pixabay

Latest vessel docks for a six-month stay at the new space station

Chinese state media has announced the successful docking of its latest rocket, the Shenzhou-13. Three astronauts are on board and look to spend six months working at China’s new space station. This is the longest crewed mission to date, twice as long as the previous 90-day mission. This trip is part of a major drive as China push forward in their attempt to become a leading space power.

The three astronauts will use the mission to set up equipment on the new space station and test out technology to expand the ship. Named Tiangong, which means ‘Heavenly Place, the station is due to be used for at least 10 years. It weighs 70 tonnes and will be expanded over the next two years with lab modules being delivered by more crewed missions in the future. 

The crew includes the first woman to visit the space station, Wang Yaping, 41. A military pilot, she was China’s second woman in space, going up in 2013. The mission commander for this trip is Zhai Zhigang, 55, who used to be a fighter pilot before completing China’s first spacewalk ever in 2008. The last team member belongs to the People’s Liberation Army airforce, 41-year-old Ye Guangfu. 

China has been moved to start its own space missions partly because of a US ban on its astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The ISS is a collaboration between the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia, but Chinese astronauts are forbidden. IT is due to be retired in 2024, but this may be extended. 

China launched its first satellite in 1970, put its first astronaut in space in 2003, and earlier this year sent its first solar exploration satellite to observe changes in the sun. Historically, they were the first country to land a robot on the far side of the Moon in 2019, and they are the second to operate a rover on Mars.

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Written by

Claire Gordon