The rocket that brought the first astronauts to China’s new space station exploded on Thursday.
The Long March 2F rocket lifted off at 9:22 a.m. local time and 3:22 a.m. Norwegian time. It was launched from the Jiuquan Space Center northwest of the Gobi Desert in China, with three astronauts on board. The launch was broadcast live on state television.
The mission is led by former air defense pilot Ni Haisheng. He was joined by Liu Beoming and Tang Hongbo, who also have military history. The crew will remain on the Tiangong space station for three months.
It is China’s first manned spaceflight in nearly five years, and a prestigious project by the Beijing government, which will mark the centenary of the country’s Communist Party on July 1.
Patriotic songs were sung at a pre-launch ceremony before Li Shangfu, who heads China’s space program, wished the trio good luck.
Eleven more space missions are planned over the next year and a half to complete construction of the space station. Solar panels and two workstations will be installed, among other things.
China’s desire to establish itself in space was boosted after the United States stopped allowing the Chinese to use the International Space Station (ISS). The United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan contribute astronauts to the International Space Station.
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