China sent three astronauts to its Tiangong space station on Tuesday, putting a civilian into orbit for the first time as it pursues plans to send a crewed mission to the Moon by the end of the decade.
The world’s second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme in a push to catch up with the United States and Russia.
The Shenzhou-16 crew took off atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 9:31 am (0131 GMT), AFP journalists and state TV showed.
The launch was a “complete success” and the “astronauts are in good condition”, said Zou Lipeng, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Leading the crew is commander Jing Haipeng on his fourth mission, as well as engineer Zhu Yangzhu and Beihang University professor Gui Haichao, the first Chinese civilian in space.
China was the third country to put humans in orbit, and Tiangong is the crown jewel of its space programme, which has also landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon.
The Shenzhou craft will dock at the space station’s Tianhe core module.
The crew will then meet their three colleagues from the Shenzhou-15 flight, who have been at the station for six months and will return to Earth in the coming days.
Shenzhou-16 will “carry out large-scale, in-orbit experiments… in the study of novel quantum phenomena, high-precision space time-frequency systems, the verification of general relativity, and the origin of life,” CMSA spokesperson Lin Xiqiang told reporters on Monday.
The space station was resupplied with drinking water, clothing, food and propellant this month in preparation for Shenzhou-16’s arrival.
( Source AFP)