About a month after it was revealed that the Tiangong-1 space lab, said to be the Communist country’s pride, will come crashing down next year, China has something to cheer about -- the launch of its sixth manned spacecraft on Monday morning.
The Shenzhou 11, carrying two astronauts, will lift off and later dock with currently orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. China’s first manned space mission was in 2003.
After reaching the lab in two days, the two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, will stay there for 30 days before returning to earth in a day.
China’s Monday launch is part of the country’s long-term mission to give a boost to its space programme, which aims to have a permanent space station by 2020.
“The mission aims to transport personnel and material between earth and Tiangong-2, and examine rendezvous, docking and return technologies,” Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office , said at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.
“During the mission, the spacecraft will form a complex with Tiangong-2. The complex’s capabilities of supporting astronauts’ life, work and health, and astronauts’ abilities for carrying out flight missions will be tested,” Wu said.
“Other objectives include conducting aerospace medical experiments, space science experiments and in-orbit maintenance with human participation, along with activities to popularise scientific knowledge.”
Wu added that the two astronauts will undertake ultrasound tests during space travel for the first time and cultivate plants in space. She also said the duo will “test the three winners of an experiment design competition for Hong Kong secondary school students”.
In the future, according to Wu, “China will continue to actively pursue international exchanges and cooperation in equipment development, space application, training of astronauts, joint flights and aerospace medicine, and share the fruits of China’s manned space efforts with other countries”.
“Shenzhou-11 is a new beginning. It marks the imminent end to the exploratory stage of China’s manned space program,” said Zhang Yulin, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space programme.