On Thursday, China will launch a crew of three astronauts into space on the country’s first manned flight in five years, using a space ship it designed, to land on a new space station that China is currently building. This launch is a major milestone for China’s ambitious space program, said CNN.
- The launch will take place at the Jiuquan Launch Center in China’s northwest Gobi Desert at 9:22 a.m. local time on Thursday (6:22 p.m. PT on Wednesday), said CNet.
- The launch may or may not be livestreamed, said CNet.
The “space race” may be back on, reported The New York Times.
What is China’s latest space mission all about?
Three Chinese astronauts, called “taikonauts,” will launch on the Shenzhou-12 space ship powered by Long March 2F rockets, reported CNN.
- Nie Haisheng, 56, has been to space three times and will lead the mission, said ABC News.
- Liu Boming, 54, has gone to space once for China’s first spacewalk.
- Tang Hongbo, 45, has never been to space but has spent 11 years training virtually, said ABC News.
The crew will land on the main module of China’s under-construction space station, the Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace,” said CNN. Onboard, the taikonauts will test the station’s life-support capabilities, conduct two spacewalks and prepare the station for further construction.
- With a three-month duration, this will be China’s longest manned space expedition. Previously, the longest manned mission lasted 33 days, said CNN.
China has planned 11 more launches, three of them manned, to deliver supplies and crews to its new space station. The station is scheduled to be fully operation and fully crewed by December 2022, reported CNN.
- The Tiangong station is expected to operate for at least a decade, said ABC News.
- China’s station will orbit 20 miles below the International Space Station (ISS) and be a quarter of the size, reported CNet.
What does this mean for a new U.S.-China space race?
China was never invited to join the ISS due to U.S. concerns about the countries military secrecy, says The New York Times. Still, China’s space program has ambitious goals that challenge the U.S. and its partners.
- The ISS is reaching the end of its functional life and was originally expected to be decommissioned in 2024, though it’s likely to be extended, reported The New York Times.
- Depending on the life span of the ISS, China may potentially operate the only inhabited space station.
Russia and China have partnered for a series of upcoming missions. They have planned to operate a robotic mission to an asteroid in 2024 and build a permanent research base on the south pole of the moon by 2030, reported The New York Times.