China has sent three astronauts on a six-month-long mission to complete work on the nation’s permanent, orbiting space station — Tiangong — the China Manned Space Agency stated.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April of 2021.
A Long March-2F rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China at 10:44 a.m. (02:44 GMT) with the spacecraft Shenzhou-14, or “Divine Vessel,” and its three astronauts as seen via a live broadcast by state television.
The mission is headed by commander Chen Dong, 43, joined by fellow astronauts Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46. They will live and work on the space station for about 180 days before returning to Earth in December.
The space station, which is about 1/5th the size of ISS, when completed by year’s-end will lay a significant milestone in China’s three-decade-long crewed space program that was initially approved in 1992.
The astronauts will install equipment inside and outside the space station and carry out a range of scientific research.
China’s space program is headed by the Chinese Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, prompting the United States to exclude it from the ISS.
The space station is designed for a lifespan of at least 10 years.