China successfully launches manned spaceship with first civilian on board
China successfully launched the Shenzhou-16 unmanned spacecraft on Tuesday, sending three astronauts, including the first citizen, to its space station compound for a five-month mission.
The spacecraft, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan satellite launch pad in northwest China at 9:31 a.m. (Beijing time), the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said.
About 10 minutes after launch, Shenzo-16 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. The crew members are in good condition and CMSA declared the launch a complete success.
The astronauts are expected to dock with the Tianhe Core Module at an altitude of about 400 km above Earth after a journey of less than seven hours.
For the first time, China has added a civilian to its orbiting crew for the space station, which has otherwise been the domain of military personnel.
One of the three astronauts is Qi Haichao, a professor at Beihang University in Beijing who is considered a payload expert.
The other two also made history as mission commander Jing Haipeng became the first Chinese astronaut to go into space for a record fourth time.
Astronaut flight engineer Zhu Yangxu also made his first trip to space.
Shenzo-16 will be the first crewed mission after China’s space station program enters the application and development phase, CMSA deputy director Lin Xiqiang told media on Monday.
The trio will remain in orbit for about five months, he said.
Once ready, Russia’s International Space Station (ISS) will be a multi-national joint venture, with China as the only country to own a space station. The ISS is also scheduled to be decommissioned by 2030.
A notable feature of China’s space station is its two robotic arms, particularly long ones capable of grasping objects from space, including satellites.
After entering orbit, the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft will connect with a fast, automated rendezvous and space station combination.
Shenzo-16 astronauts will carry out large-scale orbital tests and experiments in various fields as planned. They are expected to make high-level scientific achievements in the study of novel quantum phenomena, high-precision space-time-frequency systems, verification of general relativity and the origin of life.
The launch also marks the 475th flight of the Long March carrier rocket series.