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China Marks Latest Step in Space Exploration, Launching Taikonauts for Space Station Mission

June 5, 2022 (EIRNS)—China launched three taikonauts on a six-month mission to complete work on its orbiting space station, the China Manned Space Agency said today. The launch was from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China at 10:44 Beijing Time (02:44 UTC) Sunday morning. The spacecraft completed docking with the Earth-facing port of the Tianhe docking hub of the station at 17:42 Beijing Time (09:42 UTC), just under seven hours after launch.

The crew of the spacecraft Shenzhou-14 (“Divine Vessel”), which was launched via a Long March-2F rocket, will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which it will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April 2021. The station is expected to be completed by the year’s end.

In an ambitious timeline to completion, in July they plan to launch the Wen Tian (“Queen of the Heavens”) experimental module, which will dock with the space station. The module will provide additional navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control as backup functions for the Tianhe Core Module. It also provides a pressurized environment for researchers to conduct science experiments in freefall or zero gravity which could not be conducted on Earth for more than a few minutes. Experiments can also be placed on the outside of the modules, for exposure to the space environment, cosmic rays, vacuum, and solar winds.

Next, in October, the Meng Tian module (“Dreaming of Heavens”) will be launched and also dock with the Tiangong station; it will have a similar function as the Wen Tian module. Afterwards, the Tianzhou (“Heavenly Ship”) automated cargo spacecraft will launch and resupply the station, and finally the Shenzhou-15 mission with a crew of three will launch, complete the setup of the space station, and stay in orbit for six months. The station will host six taikonauts at once, until the end of the Shenzhou-14 mission.

The current mission is headed by commander Chen Dong, 43, joined by fellow taikonauts Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46. They will live and work on the space station, installing equipment and conducting scientific research, for about 180 days, returning to Earth in December. Chen and Liu, are both space veterans; Liu was China’s first female taikonaut to reach space aboard the Shenzhou-9 in 2012. Cai is making his first space trip. “The Shenzhou-14 mission is a pivotal battle in the construction stage of China’s space station,” Chen told a news conference in Jiuquan on June 4. “The task will be tougher, there will be more problems and the challenges will be greater.”

The completed station will be about one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station (ISS). It is at an altitude of about 400 km and is intended to stay operational in orbit for more than 10 years. It is a source of great pride for the Chinese people.

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