China launches 3 astronauts to its new space station core module

NASA Astronaut Danny Olivas on a spacewalk in 2010

A staff member stands in front of the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre near Jiuquan, China.

China launched a spacecraft on Thursday carrying three astronauts to part of a space station still under construction for the longest stay in low Earth orbit by any Chinese national.

The mission is the third of 11 planned through next year to add the additional sections to the station and send up crews and supplies.

The Shenzhou-12 crew are to live on the Tianhe, which means "Harmony of the Heavens", a cylinder 16.6 m (55 ft) long and 4.2 m (14 ft) in diameter.

Among the tasks in store for the Shenzhou-12 crew will be carrying out in-orbit tests of the Tianhe module, verifying the recycling and life support systems, testing a robotic arm and managing materials and waste.

US legislation barring NASA from any cooperation with China means Chinese astronauts have not been to the more than two-decade-old International Space Station (ISS), visited by more than 240 men and women of various nationalities.

The Tiangong space station is to be the third orbiting laboratory launched and operated by China, following the Tiangong-2 station launched in 2016 and de-orbited in 2019, and Tiangong-1 station that launched in 2011 and ceased operation in 2016.

Liu, with the help of another astronaut, used a crowbar to pry open the hatch after it refused to budge.

"The amount of time spent outside the cabin on this mission is much longer, and there will be many rounds of extra-vehicular activity".

The astronauts are Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, said Ji Qiming, assistant director at the China Manned Space Agency, in a press conference in Jiuquan.

Comprehensive cooperation and communication on spacecraft technology, space experimentation and astronaut selection and training have already taken place between China and several countries including Russia, Germany and Italy, as well as worldwide organizations such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the European Space Agency.

Then they will carry out space science experiments and technology experiments, as well as public outreach activities.

China's desire for a human outpost of its own in Earth orbit was fuelled by a U.S. ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

The travel time is down from the two days it took to reach China's earlier experimental space stations, a result of a "great many breakthroughs and innovations", the mission's deputy chief designer, Gao Xu, told state broadcaster CCTV.

"We're willing to carry out more extensive worldwide exchanges and cooperation with other countries on the issue of debris from spacecraft and in space", Ji said.



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