China Successfully Sends First Astronauts To New Space Station

They will spend three months aboard the Tianhe module on China's longest crewed mission.
Fabienne Lang

UPDATE: June 17, 05:30 AM EST: Shenzhou-12 crewed spaceship safely docks with Tianhe module

After a 6.5-hour journey, the Shenzhou-12 spaceship carrying three Chinese astronauts successfully docked with the front docking port of the Tianhe at 15:54 PM local Beijing time on June 17, announced the CMSE. 

This marks Tianhe's first rendezvous and docking with a Shenzhou spacecraft since it went up to orbit. Now, the astronauts are scheduled to enter the Tianhe module.

Original article

China's Shenzhou-12 mission successfully launched three astronauts at 09:22 AM Beijing time on June 17 (09:22 PM EST on Wednesday, June 16). The launch marks the first out of four planned crewed Tiangong space station missions, per CNN.

The Long March 2F rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, carrying with it the three astronauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo — who will spend three months in space aboard the Tianhe module.

This marks China's longest crewed mission ever, and its first one in nearly five years, reported the BBC.

The crew will be the first human visitors to spend time in China's new space station, Tiangong. There, the trio will carry out a number of tests and maintenance activities, stated

The crew's tasks in space

First and foremost, the crew led by Nie is expected to boot the Tianhe module into service. The astronauts have four main tasks during their mission in orbit, reported Xinhua, citing CMSA officials. 

First, they have to run and manage the complex, such as carrying out the in-orbit test of the Tianhe module, checking the recycling and life support systems, testing the robotic arm, among other things. 

Second, they will assemble and test extravehicular spacesuits, and carry out two extravehicular activities. 

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"We have carried out strict, systematic, and comprehensive training to ensure each extravehicular activity is completed well, especially under the protection of the new-generation extravehicular spacesuit," Liu said.

Third, they will be in charge of space science and technology experiments, and public outreach activities.

Fourth, and lastly, they will maintain, monitor, and assess their own health.

"Our upcoming mission will take longer than before. We will not only make the core module a 'space home,' but also carry out a series of key technology verifications. There will be more arduous tasks and more challenges," said Nie ahead of the launch.

Nie previously carried out two space flights, including a visit to the previous prototype space station, Tiangong-1, Liu was part of the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008 when he took part in China's first-ever spacewalk, and this will mark Tang's first spaceflight. 

Supplies were sent ahead of the launch, by a robotic freighter last month, per the BBC. The astronauts will unpack their supplies from the freighter, which is still attached.