Aboard a Long March 2F rocket, the Shenzhou 16 (Magic Ship) spacecraft took off from Jiuquan Spaceport in the Gobi Desert of northwest China. 18 minutes later, the director of the space center, Zou Lipeng, announced the “complete success” of the launch. “Shenzhou 16” reached orbit as planned. The sun sails would also have opened without any problems.
Among the three taikonauts is a civilian for the first time in Chinese space history, scientist Gui Haichao from Beijing Aerospace University. The 36-year-old is said to carry out numerous experiments. All other astronauts in the People’s Republic have so far come from the military.
The launch vehicle “Long March 2F” takes off from Jiuquan Spaceport with the spacecraft
The commander is 56-year-old space veteran Jing Haipeng. With his fourth space flight, the major general has more missions than any other Chinese astronaut. Flight engineer Zhu Yangzhu (36) is a newcomer to space alongside the scientist. “We get along as well as a family,” said the commander about the previous cooperation and their training.
The three taikonauts are scheduled to stay in space for five months and will reside in the Tiangong (Heaven’s Palace) space station this week with the current crew of three.
“Shenzhou 16” is the fifth manned mission to the Chinese space station that began regular operations earlier this year. In early May, a cargo flight carried supplies, food, spare parts and 600 kilograms of fuel into space in preparation for the stay of the three new taikonauts.
China wants to catch up with the US and Russia
The Chinese government is investing billions – converted into US dollars – in its ambitious space program in order to quickly catch up with the large spacefaring nations of the USA and Russia. In the future, China will also welcome foreign astronauts to its space station, it said. There are cooperation projects, among others, with the UN Space Office, the European Space Agency ESA and “up-and-coming” space nations.
China also wants to bring taikonauts to the moon for the first time by 2030, while the USA are planning a manned landing on the moon again from the end of 2025 with the “Artemis” project.
se/sti (dpa, afp, rtr, ap)