China to send next Space Station crew in June

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will launch three more astronauts to its new space station in June after the last crew returned at the weekend from a six-month stay in orbit, an official said on Sunday.

The Shenzhou 14 capsule crew will spend six months on the Tiangong to add two modules to the station, Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said at a press conference.

China’s ambitious space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, landed robot rovers on the Moon in 2013 and on Mars last year. Officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the Moon.

The basic module of the Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, was launched in April 2021. Plans are to complete construction this year.

The Wentian module will be launched in July and the Mengtian module in October, Hao said.

Towards the end of the Shenzhou 14 crew’s mission, three more astronauts will be launched aboard Shenzhou 15 for a six-month stay, Hao said. He added that the two crews would overlap for three to five days, marking the first time the station has had six people on board.

On Saturday, the Shenzhou 13 crew landed in the Gobi Desert in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.

During the mission, astronaut Wang Yaping performed the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman. Wang, Commander Zhai Zhigang and his teammate Ye Guangfu also broadcast physics lessons for high school students.

China was the third country to launch an astronaut into space on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States. Tiangong is China’s third space station after its predecessors launched in 2011 and 2016.

The government announced in 2020 that China’s first reusable spacecraft had landed after a test flight, but no photos or details were released.

China is barred from the International Space Station due to US unease that its space program will be run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

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