Rocket in place to send 3 crew to Chinese space station

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceship with its Long March-2F carrier rocket is being transferred to the launching area of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China’s Gansu province, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. A three-man crew of astronauts will blast off in June for a three-month mission on China’s new space station, according to a space official who was the country’s first astronaut in orbit in May.
Credit: Wang Jiangbo/Xinhua via AP

The rocket that will send three crew members to start living on China’s new orbiting space station has been moved onto the launch pad ahead of its planned blastoff next week.

The astronauts plan to spend three months on the doing spacewalks, construction and  and science experiments.

The main section of the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, station was launched into orbit on April 29, and a cargo spacecraft sent up last month carried fuel, food and equipment to the station in preparation for the crewed mission.

The Long March-2F Y12 rocket carrying the Shenzhou-12 spaceship was transferred to the  at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Wednesday, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a brief statement.

The  plans a total of 11 launches through the end of next year to deliver two laboratory modules to expand the 70-ton station, along with supplies and . Next week’s launch will be the third of those, and the first of the four crewed missions planned.

China said in March the astronauts training for the upcoming crewed missions were a mix of space travel veterans and newcomers and included some women. The first station crew will be all male, though women will be part of future crews, according to Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth in China’s first crewed mission in 2003 and is now an official at the space agency.

The Tianhe builds on experience China gained from operating two experimental space stations earlier in its increasingly ambitious .

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

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