China had sent three astronauts into orbit in a high-stakes mission. In that the first of four crewed space flights to complete the country’s space station by the end of next year. China will launch Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo into orbit aboard the spacecraft Shenzhou-12 at 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) on June 17 from Jiuquan in northwestern Gansu province.
Nie, 56, will be the oldest Chinese astronaut to go to space. He is a former air force pilot. Shenzhou-12 means Divine Vessel. It is the third of 11 missions needed to build China’s space station. Construction began in April after the launch of Tianhe, the first and largest of three modules.
The Shenzhou-12 crew are to live on the Tianhe. This word means “Harmony of the Heavens”. It is nothing but a cylinder 16.6 m (55 ft) long and 4.2 m (14 ft) in diameter. The three-month stay for Nie, Liu and Tang will be the longest for any Chinese astronauts. This is mainly to see how the men handle their relatively long time in orbit. Nie told the reporters in Jiuquan that this mission is longer this time. And they have to set up the core module. Also, they have to carry out a series of pivotal technical tests. This is definitely an arduous and challenging mission.
Shenzhou-12 is Nie’s third space outing, the second for Liu, 54, and the first for Tang, 45. Liu, with the help of another astronaut, used a crowbar to pry open the hatch after it refused to budge in their previous mission. He said to the reporters that the amount of time spent outside the cabin on this mission is much longer, and there will be many rounds of extra-vehicular activity. The mission has thus become extremely complex and tough.
Chinese astronauts have had a comparatively low international profile. Ji Qiming, assistant director at the China Manned Space Agency, told reporters in Jiuquan that after the completion of the Chinese space station, in the near future, they will see both Chinese and foreign astronauts jointly participate in the flight of the Chinese space station. Ji said that they are willing to carry out more extensive international exchanges and cooperation with other countries on the issue of debris from spacecraft and in space.
Backup astronauts for the mission are Zhai Zhigang, 54, Wang Yaping, 41 and Ye Guangfu, 40. China’s last crewed flight mission was in 2016. In that mission two men, Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng were sent via the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to Tiangong-2, a prototype of the space station where they later stayed for about a month.