China launched a spacecraft on Thursday carrying three astronauts to part of a space station still under construction for the longest stay in low Earth orbit by any Chinese national.
A Long March 2F rocket transporting the Shenzhou-12, or “Divine Vessel”, bound for the space station module Tianhe blasted off at 9:22am Beijing time (01:22 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern Gansu province.
Shenzhou-12 is the third of 11 missions – four of which will be crewed – needed to complete China’s first full-fledged space station. Construction began in April with the launch of Tianhe, the first and largest of three modules.
The astronauts Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, are to work and stay on Tianhe, the living quarters of the future space station, for three months.
Since 2003, China has launched six crewed missions and sent 11 astronauts into space, including Zhai Zhigang, who carried out China’s first spacewalk ever on the 2008 Shenzhou mission.