A Long March rocket lifted off from China’s Jiuquan satellite launch center today, carrying three astronauts to China’s new space station. The launch marks China’s first crewed mission in five years.
The launch of the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft took place Thursday morning at 9:22 a.m. local time. The three astronauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, will be the first three people to board China’s Tianhe space station. They will stay on Tianhe for three months, bringing the space station online.
The Tianhe central module, which contains the crew’s living quarters, was launched in April 2021. This first crewed mission is one of eleven missions planned during the construction phase of the space station. before the end of the space station in 2022.
China’s last crewed mission was in 2016, sending astronauts to visit the country’s former space station, Tiangong-2. This station was de-orbited in 2019. Since then, China has continued to move forward with an ambitious space program. It sent a sample return mission to the Moon and vice versa in 2020, and landed a rover on Mars earlier this year. In the long term, the country is forging partnerships with Russia, with plans to land astronauts on the moon over the next decade.