Three astronauts have successfully docked at China’s new space station, state media said, in what will be Beijing’s longest manned mission to date and the latest milestone in its quest to become a major space power.
The three exited from the Jiuquan launch center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert shortly after midnight Saturday (1600 GMT), and the team is expected to spend six months at the Tiangong Space Station, Xinhua said.
After the launch, China became inhabited area China’s official Xinhua news agency said the agency described it as a success and said the crew were “in good condition”.
Xinhua said in a brief message Saturday morning that the Shenzhou-13 ship, which was carrying the three, docked hours later at the space station’s beam port.
The mission – twice the duration of its 90-day predecessor – will prepare equipment and test technology for future construction at the Tiangong plant.
Mission leader Zhai Zhigang, 55, a former fighter pilot who completed the country’s first spacewalk in 2008, said the team would conduct “more complex” spacewalks than previous missions.
The astronaut team includes military pilot Wang Yaping, 41, who is the first woman to visit the space station after becoming the second Chinese woman in space in 2013.
The other member of the team is 41-year-old Chinese People’s Liberation Army pilot Yi Guangfu.
A former record-breaking space crew who made the first mission to Tiangong returned to Earth in September after three months on the space station.
China’s much-publicized space program has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, is expected to last for at least 10 years.
The nuclear unit entered orbit earlier this year, and the plant is expected to be operational in 2022.
The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station, which orbited the Earth from the 1980s to 2001.
Chen Lan, an independent space analyst at GoTaikonauts, told AFP that the long mission was aimed at “pushing China’s technological frontiers” and checking the space station system’s ability to withstand human habitation.
Chen said, “I don’t think this is a big challenge because Chinese technologies[ناضجة]Absolutely, although anything in space is always a challenge.”
Saturday’s explosion came shortly after China launched a missile The first satellite to explore solar energy in spaceEquipped with a telescope to track changes in the sun.
The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 missions to Tiangong through the end of next year, including at least two additional manned launches that will produce two lab units to expand the 70-ton station.
China’s space ambitions have been boosted in part by the US ban on astronauts on the International Space Station, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
The International Space Station will retire after 2024, although NASA has said it will likely still operate after 2028.
Chinese space authorities have said they are open to foreign cooperation on the space station, although the scope of such cooperation is not yet clear.
The country has come a long way since launching its first satellite in 1970.
It launched China’s first astronaut into space in 2003 and landed the Chang’e-4 robot on the far side of the moon in 2019 – a historic precedent.
In May, China became the second country to land and operate a rover on Mars.
Astronauts on the Tiangong space station will have separate living areas, fitness equipment, and a communications center for emails and video calls with ground control.
“Coffee buff. Twitter fanatic. Tv practitioner. Social media advocate. Pop culture ninja.”