China sending up next space station crew in June

China will launch three more astronauts to its newest space station in June after the last crew returns this weekend after spending six months in orbit, an official said Sunday.

The crew of the Shenzhou-14 capsule will spend six months on the Tiangong to add two modules to the station, Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told a news conference.

China’s ambitious space program put its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, landed robotic rovers on the moon in 2013 and on Mars last year. Officials have discussed a possible manned mission to the moon.

The core module of the Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, was launched in April 2021. Construction is scheduled to be completed this year.

The Wentian module will be launched in July and the Mengtian module in October, Mr Hao said.

By the end of the Shenzhou 14 crew’s mission, three more astronauts aboard the Shenzhou 15 will be launched for a six-month stay, Hao said. He added that the two crews would overlap for three to five days, marking the first time the station has had six people on board.

On Saturday, the crew of Shenzhou 13 landed in the Gobi Desert in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.

During the mission, astronaut Wang Yaping conducted the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman. Ms. Wang, Commander Zhai Zhigang and crew member Ye Guangfu also beamed back physics lessons for high school students.

After the former Soviet Union and the United States, China was the third country to independently launch an astronaut into space. Tiangong is China’s third space station after its predecessors launched in 2011 and 2016.

The government announced in 2020 that China’s first reusable spacecraft had landed after a test flight, but no photos or details have been released.

China is banned from the International Space Station because of the US unease that its space program is being led by the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army.


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