'Important milestone': Xi congratulates Chinese astronauts in space station Tianhe
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday spoke to the three astronauts who arrived at the Tianhe space station module last week in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft. Xi congratulated the Chinese astronauts and told them that the project is an “important milestone” in the country’s ambitious space exploration programme. He asked after their health and living situation aboard the space station, to which the astronauts answered in affirmative.
“We are all very happy to see you are in good shape and the work is going well,” Xi told the astronauts, speaking from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. “The building of the space station is an important milestone in China’s space industry and it will make a pioneering contribution to the peaceful use of space by mankind.”
“We in Beijing await your triumphant return,” he added.
The main section of the space station was launched into orbit on April 29 and the space agency has planned a total of 11 launches through the end of 2022 to deliver two additional modules. For the next three months, Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo will carry out science experiments, carry out spacewalks and prepare the station for receiving two laboratory modules next year.
The astronauts are expected to set a new record for China's longest crewed space mission to date, exceeding the 33 days kept by the Shenzhou-11 crew in 2016. They will work to construct the space station named Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, which will be a rival to the International Space Station (ISS), a collaborative project involving five participating space agencies — Nasa, Roscomos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA.
“You will spend three months in space and while in space, your work and your life will be in the hearts of the Chinese public,” Xi told the astronauts telecast live by the state-run television channels.
All three astronauts are former air force pilots and also members of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) which is celebrating its centenary on July 1. They saluted Xi and the country for its support.
(with inputs from agencies)