Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong before their departure to Tiangong 2

China launches astronauts for longest space mission

Image credit: Reuters

Two Chinese astronauts have blasted off into space on Monday morning for what will be the longest manned space mission conducted by China to date.

Commander Jing Haipeng, who will celebrate his 50th birthday during the space mission, and 38-year-old Chen Dong, will spend one month aboard the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, which was delivered to orbit last month.

“You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation,” Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told the two space-farers prior to their departure.

“With all the scientific and rigorous training, discreet preparation, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and tough task... We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.”

The previous longest Chinese space mission took place in 2013 when three astronauts spent 15 days aboard Tiangong 1.

The current mission is the sixth manned mission conducted by China, only the third country with the ability to launch humans to space.

China, which has been investing heavily in its space programme over the past decade, has an ambition to have a permanent space station in low Earth orbit by 2022.

The core module of the permanent space station is expected to be delivered to orbit in 2018.

Aboard the Shenzhou 11 space capsule, which took off at 7:30 am local time from a launch site in the Gobi desert, are also three experiments designed by Hong Kong schoolchildren. One of them contains silkworms.

China’s ambition to become a major space power comparable with the USA and Russia, has raised concerns in the west. The USA in particular fears China’s space assets could be used in conflict to destroy equipment of its adversaries.

China, however, insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes.

Its Jade Rabbit lunar rover surveyed the surface of the Moon for 31 months following its December 2013 landing. Although the rover suffered from technical problems, it exceeded its intended life span more than ten times and surpassed the Soviet Lunokhod 1 as the longest serving lunar rover.

The landing of the Chang’e 3 probe with Jade Rabbit on board was the first soft landing on the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1976.

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