Three Chinese astronauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – are the first crew sent to the country new space station in construction, from a launch pad in the Gobi Desert. The launch was covered on state television and celebrated as a matter of prestige ahead of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary next month.The mission was launched to be China’s longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years. They will spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth. The food, fuel and equipment the trio will need during their stay aboard Tianhe was delivered by a robotic freighter last month. The primary objective for Commander Nie Haishen and his team on the Shenzhou-12 mission is to bring the Tianhe module into service. “We need to set up our new home in space and test a series of new technologies. So, the mission is tough and challenging. I believe with the three of us working closely together, doing thorough and accurate operations, we can overcome our challenges. We have the confidence to complete the mission,” he said before launch.
The Chinese space station will have science labs and even a Hubble-class telescope to view the cosmos. He is China’s oldest astronaut in space, 56 old. China poured significant funding, billions of dollars, into its space efforts in the last years and achieved many goals. In the past six months, the country has returned rock and soil samples to Earth from the surface of the Moon, and landed a six-wheeled robot on Mars. China will carry out 11 missions this year and next to complete the construction of the space station, including four manned missions. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, signed an agreement in March with the Chinese National Space Administration to build a base on or around the Moon. China says it is prepared to open its station to foreign involvement. The Chinese space station is expected to remain in operation for at least 10 years.