The rocket that will send the first crew members to the new Chinese space station has been moved to the launch pad ahead of its scheduled take-off next week

BEIJING – The rocket that will send the first crew members to live on China’s new orbiting space station has been moved to the launch pad ahead of its scheduled take-off next week.

The three astronauts plan to spend three months in the space station performing spacewalks, construction and maintenance work, and science experiments.

The Long March-2F Y12 rocket carrying the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft was transferred to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Wednesday, China’s space engineering office said. inhabited in a brief release. Its provisional launch date is next Wednesday.

The space agency plans a total of 11 launches until the end of next year to deliver two lab modules to expand the 70-ton station, as well as supplies and crew members. Next week’s launch will be the third of these and the first of four planned crewed missions.

China said in March that the training of astronauts for upcoming crewed missions was a mix of veterans and newcomers and included women. He has sent 11 astronauts to space so far, all pilots of the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army.

Tianhe’s first crew will be all-male, though women will be among future crews at the station, according to Yang Liwei, who orbiting Earth on China’s first crewed mission in 2003 and is now a mission manager. space agency.

The Tianhe builds on China’s experience operating two experimental space stations earlier in its increasingly ambitious space program. Chinese astronauts spent 33 days living on the second of the previous stations, conducted a spacewalk and taught science lessons that were broadcast to students across the country.

China landed a probe, the Tianwen-1, on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong. He also brought back lunar samples, the first from a country’s space program since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the less explored far side of the moon.

Beijing is not participating in the International Space Station, in large part because of US objections. Washington is wary of the secrecy of the Chinese program and its military relations.

When complete, the Tianhe will allow for stays of up to six months, like the much larger International Space Station.

The Chinese station would be intended to be used for 15 years and could survive the ISS, which is approaching the end of its operational lifespan.

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