In the night of Wednesday to Thursday, China brings its first residents to its first real space station. The spacecrafters will live in the Heavenly Palace (Tiangong) in the coming months, hundreds of miles above Earth. The launch is scheduled for 3.22 a.m. Dutch time.
The first part of Tiangong Space Station was launched in April. Thats a tube of almost 17 metres long and just over four metres wide. There the three have to live, eat, sleep, exercise, work and research. The crew goes out twice for a spacewalk. In the coming years, two other components will need to be linked to the first module.
The flight is led by Nie Haisheng (56), who embarks on his third space flight. He is joined by Liu Boming (54) and Tang Hongbo (45), two others than first planned.
The so-called taikonauts stay in the space station for three months. Never have Chinese been in space for so long. “This mission takes longer and we not only need to install the core, our home in space, but we also need to do some important technical tests. This mission is harder and challenges are bigger,” Nie said at the last press conference before departure. Liu speaks of an “extremely complex and tough mission,” also because of space walks.
Ambitious China does not or hardly cooperate with other countries in space. When the space station is ready by 2023, it could change. “In the near future, we will see both Chinese and foreign astronauts together in the Chinese space station,” a Chinese space program driver said. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union offered allies space flights. This allowed people from East Germany, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Syria to enter space, for example.