AFP: China sent three astronauts to its Tiangong space station yesterday, putting a civilian into orbit for the first time as it pursues plans to send a crewed mission to the Moon by the end of the decade.
The world’s second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme in a push to catch up with the United States and Russia. The Shenzhou-16 crew took off atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 9:31 am (0131 GMT), AFP journalists saw.
The launch was a “complete success” and the “astronauts are in good condition”, said Zou Lipeng, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Dozens of employees from the space programme, many of whom live year-round on the huge site, attended the launch, snapping selfies with the rocket in the background.
Children played as they waited for the launch, some waving Chinese flags as they sat on their parents’ shoulders. Spectators let out a loud “wow”, shouting “good luck” and waving as the rocket took off in a cloud of ochre smoke.
Leading its crew is commander Jing Haipeng on his fourth mission, as well as engineer Zhu Yangzhu and Beihang University professor Gui Haichao, the first Chinese civilian in space. China was the third country to put humans in orbit, and Tiangong is the crown jewel of its space programme, which has also landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon.
Nayeemul Islam khan
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