China set to send first crew to new space station Thursday

Jun 15, 2021, 6:43 PM | Updated: Jun 16, 2021, 4:53 am
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming wave at a press conference...

Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming wave at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

JIUQUAN, China (AP) — The three members of the first crew to be sent to China’s space station say they’re eager to get to work making their home for the next three months habitable, setting up testing and experiments and preparing for a series of spacewalks.

The three met with reporters Wednesday from inside a germ-free glassed-in room, hours before they were to blast off on Thursday morning.

“First of all, we need to arrange our home in the core module, then get started on a whole range of diagnostic tests on crucial technology and experiments,” said mission commander Nie Haisheng, 56, the most senior of the three who is making his third trip to space.

“The task is very arduous and there are many challenges. My colleagues and I will cooperate closely, operate carefully and overcome all difficulties,” Nie said.

Unsurprisingly, all said they had complete confidence in the mission, which carries special political meaning for the ruling Communist Party as it prepares to celebrate its centenary next month.

Liu Boming, 54, whose one previous flight in 2008 included China’s first spacewalk, said there would be multiple such activities during the mission as the astronauts carry out their science experiments, conduct maintenance and prepare the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, core module to receive two other modules to be sent up next year.

Tang Hongbo, 45, who is making his first flight since being selected among the second batch of astronauts in 2010, said he had been training virtually nonstop for years. “There is pressure,” Tang said. “But where there is pressure there is motivation and … I have confidence in myself and have confidence in our team.”

Thursday’s launch begins the first crewed space mission in five years for an increasingly ambitious space program. China has sent 11 astronauts into space since becoming the third country to so so on its own in 2003, and has sent orbiters and rovers to the moon and Mars.

The astronauts will be traveling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket set to blast off at 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China.

While the first Tianhe crew are all men, women will be part of future crews, officials have said.

Beijing doesn’t participate in the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns over the Chinese space program’s secrecy and its military connections. Despite that, foreign science missions and possibly foreign astronauts are expected to visit the Chinese station in the future, China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming told reporters at Jiuquan.

“Outer space is the common wealth of people all over the world, and exploring the universe is the shared cause of all mankind,” Ji said.

“We are willing to carry out international cooperation and exchanges with all countries and regions worldwide that are committed to the peaceful use of outer space,” Ji said, adding that existing cooperation is being expanded with countries including Russia, Italy and Germany along with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

“I believe that in the near future, when the Chinese space station is complete, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts taking on joint missions to the Chinese space station,” Ji said.

Ji conceded the construction of the Chinese station had come “relatively late,” but said that was also an advantage because it allowed China to use the latest technologies and concepts, particularly in the areas of reliability and safety.

“Exploring the vast universe, developing space activities, building a powerful space nation is our unremitting space dream,” Ji said.

“The construction and operation of China’s space station will raise our technologies and accumulate experience for all the people. It is a positive contribution by China for human exploration of the universe, peaceful utilization of outer space and push forward the building of a community of shared future for mankind,” he said.

The mission is the third of 11 planned through next year to add the additional sections to the station and send up crews and supplies. The main living section of the station was launched in April while the other two modules will be primarily for scientific work.

The mission builds on experience China gained from earlier operating two experimental space stations. It also landed a probe on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong, and earlier landed a probe and rover on the moon and brought back the first lunar samples by any country’s space program since the 1970s.

Once completed, the station will allow for stays of up to six months, similar to the much larger International Space Station.

All astronauts will have their own living area, and a stationary bike and other exercise equipment will allow them to counter some of the effects of weightlessness. They’ll also be able to bring personal items to remind them of home and stave off boredom while not working, Nie said.

The Chinese station reportedly is intended to be used for 15 years and may outlast ISS, which is nearing the end of its functional lifespan.

The launch of Tianhe was considered a success although China was criticized for allowing the uncontrolled reentry to Earth of part of the rocket that carried it into space. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.

The rocket blasting off Thursday is of a different type, and Ji dismissed concerns about it or the models used for cargo missions posing a threat when they reenter. China published their trajectories and they are expected to burn up long before they could be a danger, he said.

___

This story has been corrected to show China conducted its first spacewalk in 2008, not 2011.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This image filed May 15, 2019 in federal court as part of a forfeiture complaint by the U.S. attorn...
Associated Press

Long-missing Alexander Hamilton letter put on public display

BOSTON (AP) — A letter written by Alexander Hamilton in 1780 and believed stolen decades ago from the Massachusetts state archives is going back on display — though not exactly in the room where it happened. The founding father’s letter will be the featured piece at the Commonwealth Museum’s annual July Fourth exhibit, Secretary of […]
7 hours ago
FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a ral...
Associated Press

Abortion ruling puts spotlight on gerrymandered legislatures

In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives” in the states. Whether those elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter […]
7 hours ago
Nate Looney poses in front of a painting at the BAR Center at the Beach Thursday, June 16, 2022, in...
Associated Press

Black Jewish leader works to boost community, inclusiveness

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nate Looney is a Black man who grew up in Los Angeles, a descendant of enslaved people from generations ago. He’s also an observant, kippah-wearing Jew. But he doesn’t always feel welcome in Jewish spaces — his skin color sometimes elicits questioning glances, suspicions and hurtful assumptions. Once, he walked into […]
7 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the W...
Associated Press

From one July Fourth to the next, a steep slide for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last Fourth of July, President Joe Biden gathered hundreds of people outside the White House for an event that would have been unthinkable for many Americans the previous year. With the coronavirus in retreat, they ate hamburgers and watched fireworks over the National Mall. Although the pandemic wasn’t over yet, Biden said, […]
7 hours ago
Chief Nurse Executive Danielle Maness stands in an empty examination room that was used to perform ...
Associated Press

After abortion ruling, clinic staff grapple with trauma

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Danielle Maness has squeezed the hands of hundreds of anxious patients lying on tables in the procedure room, now empty. She’s recorded countless vital signs and delivered scores of snacks to the recovery area, now silent. Peering into each darkened room at West Virginia ‘s only abortion clinic, the chief nurse […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Lina Khan, nominee for Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, speaks during a Senate ...
Associated Press

Ruling could dampen government efforts to rein in Big Tech

The Supreme Court’s latest climate change ruling could dampen efforts by federal agencies to rein in the tech industry, which went largely unregulated for decades as the government tried to catch up to changes wrought by the internet. In the 6-3 decision that was narrowly tailored to the Environmental Protection Agency, the court ruled Thursday […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
China set to send first crew to new space station Thursday