Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China, May 30 (EFE).- China’s spacecraft Shenzhou-16 blasted off for the Tiangong space station on Tuesday carrying three astronauts, who will become the first to board it after the previous crew completed its construction in late 2022.
The launch was successfully carried out from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, at 9:31 am.
A Long March 2F rocket propelled Shenzhou-16 into space, carrying the three-member crew, which will spend approximately five months in Tiangong.
The new crew comprises a veteran with four missions, Jing Haipeng, and two first timers, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, who is also the first Chinese astronaut who is not a member of the People’s Liberation Army.
The three taikonauts – as astronauts are called in China – will be the first crew of Tiangong during its application and development phase.
Sources at the launch center said that Shenzhou-16 was expected to take six to seven hours to reach the space station.
The Shenzhou-16 will be the seventh spacecraft to visit Tiangong.
The astronauts aboard will spend a few days with the crew that has been manning the space station for the last six months and who arrived at the station aboard the Shenzhou-15 for the first in-orbit crew handover at the Tiangong.
By 2024, Tiangong, which will operate for around 10 years, could become the world’s only space station if the International Space Station, a United States-led initiative to which China is barred due to military ties to its space program, is withdrawn that year as planned.
In recent years, the Chinese space program has achieved successes such as landing the Chang’e 4 probe on the hidden side of the Moon – the first time it has been achieved – and reaching Mars for the first time, becoming the third country to do so after the US and the former Soviet Union. EFE