Three Chinese astronauts including first woman enter space station
Three Chinese astronauts including the first woman entered the country’s under-construction space station on Saturday, hours after the Shenzhou-13 crewed mission blasted off into space on the Long March-2F rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu province in northwest China.
Wang Yaping, 41, is part of a three-member team which entered Tiangong -- or Heavenly Palace -- space station, the first woman astronaut to do so. She is expected to become the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk.
The three will stay inside the space station for six months – the longest-ever mission involving crew in China’s rapidly developing space programme.
After Shenzhou-13 successfully completed a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the space station complex, which is composed of the core module Tianhe and the cargo crafts Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3, the Shenzhou-13 crew entered the orbital capsule from the return capsule of the spaceship.
“After a series of preparations, (astronaut) Zhai Zhigang opened the hatch of the Tianhe core module. At 9:58 a.m. (Beijing Time), Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu entered the core module one by one,” the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said in a statement on Saturday.
The trio is the second batch of crew in China’s space station.
In September, three other Chinese astronauts successfully completed a three-month stay on board the future station.
They conducted two spacewalks to install equipment and worked on the station’s core module during their stay inside the space station.
The assignments for the new crew include operating mechanical arms, performing extravehicular activities, and having module transfer tests.
“They will also continue to verify key technologies concerning astronauts’ long-term stay in orbit, as well as recycle and life support,” the CMSA said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe - the first and largest of the station’s three modules.
Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station, a Reuters report said.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022.
On May 30, a cargo spacecraft carrying supplies including food and equipment docked with China’s first space station’s key module Tianhe as part of the preparation for the station to host three astronauts this month.
The unmanned Tianzhou-2, or “Heavenly Vessel” in Chinese, docked with Tianhe (the key module).
Since 2003, China has launched six crewed missions and sent 11 astronauts into space, including Zhai Zhigang, who carried out China’s first spacewalk ever on the 2008 Shenzhou mission.
In recent months, China has returned rock and soil samples to earth from the surface of the moon and landed a six-wheeled robot on Mars; it also landed a craft on the far side of the moon in 2019.
Once built, China’s space station will be the only alternative to the two-decade-old, US-led International Space Station (ISS), which may be retired in 2024, Reuters news agency reported.
The ISS – from which China is excluded -- comprises Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the US, and 11 member states of the European Space Agency.