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China launches first crew to new space station



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The Shenzhou-12 capsule successfully took off atop its Long March 2F rocket. Photo - Getty Images

London, June 17: China has launched three astronauts into orbit to begin occupation of the country's new space station.

The three men - Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo - are to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth.

It will be China's longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years. On Thursday, their Shenzhou-12 capsule successfully took off atop its Long March 2F rocket.

The lift-off from the Jiuquan satellite launch center in the Gobi desert was at 09:22 Beijing time (01:22 GMT). The launch and subsequent mission are other demonstrations of China's growing confidence and capability in the space domain.

In the past six months, the country has returned rock and soil samples to Earth from the surface of the Moon and landed a six-wheeled robot on Mars - both highly complex and challenging endeavors.


What will the crew do in space?

The primary objective for Commander Nie Haishen and his team on the Shenzhou-12 mission is to bring the 22.5-tonne Tianhe module into service.

"I have a lot of expectations," Nie said ahead of the launch.

"We need to set up our new home in space and test a series of new technologies. So, the mission is tough and challenging. I believe with the three of us working closely together, doing thorough and accurate operations, we can overcome our challenges. We have the confidence to complete the mission."

This 16.6m-long, 4.2m-wide Tianhe cylinder was launched in April.

It is the first and core component in what will eventually be a near 70-tonne orbiting outpost, comprising living quarters, science labs and even a Hubble-class telescope to view the cosmos.

The various elements will be launched in turn over the course of the next couple of years. The construction will be accompanied by regular cargo deliveries, as well as crew expeditions.