Jiuquan | They are gone. The three Chinese astronauts took off on Thursday for the first manned flight to the “heavenly palace” that Beijing assembles in front of the International Space Station.
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Just in time, the Long-March 2F rocket left its launch pad at Jiuquan Space Launch Center at 9:22 AM 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, which is preparing to celebrate on July 1 the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.
The three soldiers took their places aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, which will dock with the only station module already in space. The home and control center 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 not be idle: maintenance, equipment installation, spacewalks, preparation for upcoming construction missions and accommodation of 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 10 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.
“We are ready to cooperate with any country committed to the peaceful use of outer space,” Ji Qiming, a senior official with China’s Manned Aviation Agency said on Wednesday.
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.
Just before their departure, the expedition leader, Ni Haisheng, accompanied by Liu Beoming and Tang Hongbo, bid farewell to their relatives and colleagues in a celebration of strong patriotic content during which an ancient revolutionary crisis resounded. Ceremony”.
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 been writing glorious chapters in Chinese space history, and our mission embodies the expectations of the people and the party itself,” he said.
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,” said Liu Buming, one of the crew members. “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 a treadmill to keep fit.