China on Sunday launched a vehicle carrying three astronauts to its space station, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, as its construction enters a pivotal stage.
In a live broadcast on state TV, a Long March-2F missile is shown taking off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 10:44 a.m. (0244 GMT), carrying Shenzhou-14, or “divine ship” in Chinese.
Construction of the space station began last year with the launch of the first and largest of its three modules – Tianhe – housing the living quarters for visiting astronauts. China will launch the two units, Wentian in July and Mengtian in October, to dock with Tianhe to form a T-shaped structure.
Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong, 43, and his colleagues Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuezhe, 46, all of the second group of astronauts, will stay in China and work on the space station for six months before returning to Earth in December. With the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.
Former Air Force pilot Chen, with Liu, who became China’s first female astronaut in ten years, and Cai, who is participating for the first time in a space mission, will oversee the Wentian and Mengtian docking with the core unit.
They will also install equipment inside and outside the space station and conduct a range of scientific research.
“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a pivotal battle in the construction phase of the Chinese space station… The mission will be more difficult, there will be more problems, and the challenges will be greater,” Chen said at a press conference in Jiuquan on Saturday.
The space station is designed to operate for at least ten years.
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