Three Chinese astronauts aboard Shenzhou-17 arrived at the Tiangong space station. They will spend half a year in orbit. For one of them, this is the second stay on board the “heavenly palace”.
The Shenzhou-17 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Spaceport in northwestern China at 11:13 a.m. local time. A few hours later, astronauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin of the People’s Liberation Army Astronaut Corps (PLAAC) arrived at Taingong Space Station, beginning their six-month stay in orbit.
The mission is the twelfth manned and seventeenth flight of the Shenzhou program. This is also the sixth manned mission to the Chinese space station since 2021, Chinese state media reported.
The youngest cast of the Chinese space station
This is the youngest Chinese crew China has ever sent cosmos. The average age of astronauts is 38 years. Their tasks include repairing solar panels damaged by space debris, including the remains of old spaceships drifting in Earth’s orbit.
Tang Hongbo, mission commander and former fighter pilot, was on board Tiangong for the second time, setting a record for the shortest interval between two space missions flown by Chinese astronauts. The first flight into space took place to the Chinese space station in 2021. China sent its first astronaut, or taikonaut, into space in 2003.
The previous three-person crew, which includes the first civilian astronaut Gui Haichao, has been aboard Tiangong Station since May. It will be about four days before it begins its journey back to Earth.
Tiangong may soon be the only operational space station in orbit
Tiangong Station, whose name in Chinese means “heavenly palace”, is part of China’s plans for a permanent human presence in Earth orbit. The installation of the last module of the facility took place at the end of 2022. China built its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station (ISS), which has been operating for 20 years, mainly due to American objections to the close ties of Chinese space programs with the People’s Liberation Army, which is under the control of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Tiangong, which is estimated to operate in space for 10-15 years, could become the only operating space station if, as scientists predict, the ISS ends its work in the second half of the 2020s.
PAP, Reuters, CNN, tvnmeteo.pl
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/ALEX PLAVEVSKI