They are gone. The three Chinese astronauts took off Thursday, June 17, for the first manned flight to the “Sky Palace” that Beijing assembles in front of the International Space Station. Just in time, the Longue-March 2F rocket at 9:22 a.m. (3:22 a.m. French time) left its launch pad from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center, in the Gobi Desert (Northwest).
This is China’s first manned flight in nearly five years and a record time in space in the perspective of an Asian giant: The three astronauts, whose names were not revealed until Wednesday, will remain three months in orbit. In the context of tension with the West, the success of the mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing preparing to celebrate the 1he is July Centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.
The three soldiers are placed aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, which will dock with the only unit from the station already in space. The control center and home for astronauts, this unit at the end of April was placed in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of 350-390 km). On board, the astronauts will be busy with maintenance, equipment installation, spacewalks, preparing for upcoming construction missions, and setting up future crews.
The national dimension
The Chinese space station called Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), when completed, will be similar in size to the former Soviet Mir station (1986-2001). She will be at least ten years old.
China decided to build its own space station after the United States refused to allow it to participate in the International Space Station (ISS). The latter – which brings together the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is due to retire in 2024, although NASA has mentioned a possible extension beyond 2028.
On Wednesday, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his American colleague Shane Kimbrough took an undisturbed spacewalk of more than seven hours to deploy a next-generation solar panel outside the International Space Station.
“We are ready to cooperate with any country that is committed to the peaceful use of outer space.”Ji Qiming, a senior official with the China Human Space Flight Agency (CMSA), said on Wednesday.
Just before their departure, the expedition leader, Ni Hai Sheng, accompanied by Liu Beoming and Tang Hongbo, bid farewell to their relatives and colleagues in a celebration with strong patriotic content during which an ancient revolutionary crisis resounded: “There is no new China without the Communist Party”.
At a press conference, Wednesday, the three astronauts sent a military salute to reporters, in front of a large red five-star flag. Ni Hai Sheng, who had already made two spaceflights, emphasized the patriotic dimension of the operation. “For decades, we have written glorious chapters in Chinese space history, and our mission embodies the expectations of the people and the party itself.”, did he say.
The trio underwent more than 6,000 hours of training, including falling into the pool in spacesuits, to get used to weightless riding. “We struggled every minute to realize our dream of space”, Liu Beoming, one of the crew members testified. “I trained by dedicating myself to the cause.”
In their capsule, the three soldiers will have a choice of 120 types of foods at meal time, and they will be able to train on the treadmill to keep fit.