The Associated PressOctober 14, 2021 9:08:26 PM IST
China is preparing to send three astronauts to live on its space station for six months, a new milestone for a program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.
It will be China’s longest manned space mission and will set a record for the longest amount of time spent in space by Chinese astronauts. The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft is expected to be launched into space on a Long March-2F rocket early Saturday morning from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi desert in northwest China.
The first crew to serve a 90-day mission aboard the Tianhe main module of the space station returned in mid-September.
The new crew has two veterans of space travel. Pilot Zhai Zhigang, 55, conducted China’s first spacewalk. Wang Yaping, 41, and the only woman on the mission, conducted experiments and led a science class in real time while traveling on one of China’s previous experiment space stations. Ye Guangfu, 41, will travel into space for the first time.
The mission is expected to continue the work of the initial crew, who conducted two spacewalks, deployed a 33-foot (10-meter) mechanical arm and held a video call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
China Manned Space Agency deputy director Lin Xiqiang said the rocket was loaded with fuel and ready to fly. “All systems carrying out the Shenzhou-13 mission have undergone a full test. The flight crew is in good condition and our pre-launch preparations are in order, ”Lin said at a briefing on Thursday.
The crew’s scheduled activities include up to three spacewalks to install equipment in preparation for expanding the station, checking living conditions in the module, and conducting experiments in space medicine and other areas, Lin said.
China’s military, which runs the space program, has released few details, but says it will send multiple crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional. Shenzhou-13 will be the fifth mission, including unmanned travel to deliver supplies.
When completed with the addition of two more modules, named Mengtian and Wentian, the station will weigh around 66 tons, a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh around 450 tons when completed. . Lin said the two additional modules will be shipped before the end of next year during the Shenzhou-14 crew’s stay, yet to be named.
China was excluded from the International Space Station in large part due to objections from the United States over the secretive nature of the Chinese program and its close military ties. He made plans to build his own space stations in the early 1990s and had two experimental modules before starting the permanent station.
US law requires congressional approval for contact between the US and Chinese space programs, but China is cooperating with space experts from countries such as France, Sweden, Russia and Italy.
Lin said China is expanding such cooperation, as Ye Guangfu received training with the European Space Agency in 2016 and European astronauts participated in survival training in the China Sea in 2017.
“We welcome astronauts from other countries to enter our space station and conduct international cooperation,” Lin said. “We believe that after the station enters the operation and utilization phase, more foreign astronauts will visit our station.”
China has launched seven manned missions with a total of 14 astronauts on board since 2003, when it became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on their own. Two Chinese astronauts have flown twice.
Along with its manned missions, China has expanded its work on lunar and Mars exploration, including placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the decade. 1970.
This year, China also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
Other programs require collecting land from an asteroid and bringing in additional lunar samples. China has also expressed its aspiration to put people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there, although no timetable has been proposed for such projects. A top-secret space plane is also reportedly in development.