HONG KONG – Thirteen years after former fighter pilot Liu Boming took part in China’s first space walk, the 54-year-old astronaut was once again sent into space on Thursday morning to mark another milestone in the first mission to occupy the country’s new space station .
Mr. Liu and two other former Air Force members of the People’s Liberation Army took off aboard the Shenzhou-12 – « Divine Ship » in Chinese – with a Long March 2F launcher from a launch center in northwest China.
The spaceship is scheduled to dock with the orbiting Tianhe module later on Thursday and the astronauts will spend three months there, including two planned space walks.
Before the start, the astronauts were passed by a motorcade on a morning with a clear sky escorted an avenue lined with Chinese national flags to the launch pad in the Gobi desert.
Your mission comes as Chi na is making bolder efforts in space and days before the country celebrates the centenary of its ruling Communist Party of China in July. China’s astronauts are hailed as heroes by the state media as a symbol of China’s rapidly advancing space program, which is touted as a source of national pride.
While space exploration in the west is being promoted by private entrepreneurs such as the chief executive of Tesla Inc.
and CEO of Amazon Inc.
China’s state-run space program resembles previous efforts by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which regularly included active service members of the military.
China has precise targets for its space program and astronauts – called taikonauts – and the efforts are drawing the kind of notoriety and nationalistic zeal that inspired America’s earliest space adventurers. Many space fans regularly travel to launch sites such as the island province of Hainan.
The astronauts, with Chinese flags and Communist Party pins on their lapels indicating their membership in China’s ruling party, welcomed reporters to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday.
« In retrospect it looks like 13 years, but it flew by, » said Mr. Liu, who presented a Chinese flag to another astronaut to waving during a historic walk in space in 2008. « When I stand on my mechanical arms, when I face the vast universe, when I see these stars fly by on planet Earth, I hope that all Chinese can fly with me from the bottom of their hearts. »
China has in the last Years ago made great leaps in space exploration and last month was only the second country to successfully land and operate a rover on Mars.
The Tiangong space station – which means « Heavenly Palace » in Chinese – will be in the built in the coming months. It is considered a rival to the International Space Station, which has hosted more than 200 astronauts from more than a dozen countries over the past two decades. China has been banned from working with NASA under US law since 2011, and its astronauts are banned from the ISS.
Tiangong, which is much smaller than the ISS, will host overseas astronauts when completed, according to Hao Chun , Director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
The mission is China’s first manned space flight in five years. The three men will stay for three months – longer than any previous Chinese astronaut. During their stay in orbit, they are supposed to conduct two space walks as well as tests in preparation for the other missions that are to reach the station before their planned completion at the end of 2022.
“I have a deep feeling about flying into space in the name of my homeland Mission and Honor, ”said Nie Haisheng, the 56-year-old mission commander, in a televised address on the eve of the launch.
It is the third space mission for Mr. Nie, who led the PLA’s Taikonaut Brigade. « Developing China’s space mission is a process of turning our dreams into reality, and over the years we have written a glorious chapter for China’s space mission, » he said. « Every step of progress embodies the expectations of the country, the party and the people. »
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