China sends 3 astronauts in the first orbiting crew rotation in the country’s history
China sent a spacecraft carrying three astronauts to its space station for the first crew rotation in orbit in Chinese space history, launching the operation of the second inhabited outpost in low Earth orbit after the ‘International Space Station led by NASA.
The Shenzhou-15 spacecraft, or “Divine Vessel,” and its three passengers lifted off on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 11:08 p.m. on Tuesday. of sub-freezing temperatures in the Gobi Desert, northwest China. , according to state television.
Shenzhou-15 was the last of 11 missions, including three earlier crewed missions, that began in April 2021 needed to assemble the “Heavenly Palace,” as the multi-module station is known in Chinese.
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The trio will take over from the Shenzhou-14 crew that arrived in early June. The previous crew members are expected to return to Earth in early December after a week-long delivery that will also establish the station’s ability to temporarily support six astronauts, another record for the space program. the china
The space outpost took its current “T” shape in November with the arrival of the last of the three cylindrical modules.
The station has a designed life of at least a decade, and the resident astronauts are expected to conduct more than 1,000 scientific experiments, from studying how plants adapt in space to how fluids behave in microgravity.
The “Heavenly Palace” was the culmination of nearly two decades of Chinese manned space missions. China’s manned space flights began in 2003 when a former fighter pilot, Yang Liwei, was sent into orbit in a small bronze-colored capsule, the Shenzhou-5, and became the first man to China in space and an instant hero hailed by millions at home.
The space station was also emblematic of China’s growing influence and confidence in its space efforts and a challenger to the United States for dominance, having been isolated from the NASA-led ISS and banned by American law any collaboration, direct or indirect. with the US space agency.
The Shenzhou-15 mission, during which its crew will live and work on the space station for six months, also gave the nation a rare moment to celebrate, at a time of widespread unhappiness over stifling policies of zero- China’s COVID-19 while its economy. slow down amid uncertainties at home and abroad.
“Long live the motherland!” many Chinese netizens wrote on social media.
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Leading the Shenzhou-15 mission was Fei Junlong, 57, who came from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. His previous visit to space was 17 years ago as commander of China’s second manned space flight.
Fei was flanked by Deng Qingming, 56, who had trained for 24 years as an astronaut but had never been chosen for a mission until Shenzhou-15. They were joined by former Air Force pilot Zhang Lu, 46, also a space rookie.
During the space station’s operation over the next decade, China is expected to launch two manned missions to the orbiting outpost each year.
The next batch of “taikonautes,” coined from the Chinese word for space, to set foot on the station in 2023 will be selected from the third generation of scientifically trained astronauts. The first and second batches of astronauts in the 1990s and 2000s were all former air force pilots.
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China has begun the selection process for the fourth batch, seeking candidates with doctoral degrees in disciplines ranging from biology, physics and chemistry to biomedical engineering and astronomy.
The selection process has also been opened for the first time to applicants from Hong Kong and Macau.
Although still in its infancy compared to NASA’s technologies and expertise, China’s space program has come a long way since the mid-20th century, when the country’s late leader Mao Zedong lamented that China could not even launch a potato into orbit.