China Launches Space Mission Carrying Two Astronauts
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (L) and Chen Dong meet the media at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 16, 2016 in Jiuquan, Gansu Province of China (Getty Images)
Beijing: China on Monday moved a step closer to establish its permanent space station by 2022 as it launched a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, in its longest-ever manned space mission, who would later join its second experimental space lab orbiting the Earth.
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, 50, and Chen Dong, 37, were blasted off into space by Shenzhou-11 (heavenly vessel) spacecraft at 7:30 am local time (5 am IST) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre near the Gobi Desert in northern China. The launch was telecasted live by the state-run CChina Central Television (CCTV).
The Shenzhou-11 was put into orbit by a Long March-2F carrier rocket. It will dock with orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 in two days and the astronauts will stay in the lab for 30 days, Wu Ping, Deputy Director of China's manned space engineering office said.
Hours before the lift-off, the two astronauts appeared in good spirits and answered several questions.
"Although the job is challenging, risky and dangerous, there is nothing more I would rather do," Jing, who is commander of this mission, told reporters yesterday.
It will be Jing's third spaceflight following his Shenzhou-7 mission in September 2008 and Shenzhou-9 mission in March 2012.
"(For this mission) we have improved our ability to deal with emergencies, first aid and space experiments," Jing said.
"I will treasure every moment in space and ensure I record my experience in my diary and enjoy the out-of-this- world scenery," Chen said.
China, which conducted its first manned space mission in 2003, is putting in billions into its space programme in a bid to catch up with the US and Europe. It also plans to launch its maiden Mars mission in 2020 to match India and others.
China has said its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but it has also tested anti-satellite missiles in addition to its civilian aims.
The Shenzhou-11 spaceship will return to Earth within a day after docking the two astronauts on Tiangong-2 space lab and separating from it, Wu said.
Jing will command the mission to the space lab which was launched last month.
With a safe flight record of 1,500 hours as an air force pilot, Chen became China's second group of astronauts in May 2010, and was selected as a crew member of the Shenzhou-11 mission in June 2016, Wu said. This will be his first spacemission.