First crewed space mission since 2016 . . .
On Thursday morning, China successfully launched three taikonauts (the word used for Chinese astronauts) into space from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the province of Inner Mongolia. Hours later, the crew entered the Tianhe-1 module, launched into space in April 2021, completing the first step in their three-month mission. It will be China's longest crewed space mission and the first since 2016. The three taikonauts will continue building the Tiangong Chinese space station, which is expected to be completed in 2022. The crew will carry out experiments, test equipment, conduct maintenance operations, and prepare the module to receive two other modules next year.
First country with a space station . . .
The current mission is the third stage of China’s Tiangong space program. Started in 1992, Tiangong is an ambitious plan to create a modular space station. Once completed, China will become the only country to own and run a space station, which will rival the International Space Station, of which the U.S., Russia, the EU, Japan, and Canada are a part. This mission is the third of 11 planned missions over the next year to complete the space station and add the additional sections. The next mission is scheduled to take place in three months, when a new three-member crew will be sent to bring supplies to take over the work on Tiangong.
China’s ambitious space program . . .
In addition to building a space station, a senior Chinese official revealed yesterday China’s long-term goal of safely sending taikonauts to Mars and back, with the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent presence on the Red Planet. China has made progress on that front, successfully landing a rover in Mars’s northern hemisphere last month as part of its Tianwen-1 mission and sending back pictures and data, making it only the second country to successfully do so. A follow-up mission to send a second rover to Mars is already planned for 2028 to bring back samples – setting up a potential space race with both the U.S. and the EU, which are also working toward that goal.