A veteran astronaut and two rookies have been launched on a long-duration flight to the Chinese space station

Three Chinese astronauts lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Thursday and took off after launching the satellite. Tiangong Space Station To replace Three crew members for a long time Who have completed a six-month stay in space.

With veteran Ye Guangfu, 43, at the command of the Shenzhou 18 spacecraft, flanked by rookies Li Cong, 34, and Li Guangsu, 36, the Long March 2F rocket roared to life at 8:59 a.m. EDT (8:59 a.m. EDT). 59pm Beijing time). time) and climbed smoothly away on a southwesterly path consistent with the station's orbit.

A Long March 2F rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China with three astronauts on board for a trip to the Tiangong Space Station.

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Ye and his colleagues then observed a 6.5-hour automated rendezvous with the Tiangong station and docked at 3:32 PM EDT, joining Shenzhou-17 commander Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin aboard the orbital outpost.

“I and my crew members, as well as the entire space mission team, are fully prepared and confident (in our ability) to complete this spaceflight mission,” Yi said in translated remarks during a press conference on Wednesday.

Tang and his colleagues plan to depart and return to Earth by landing in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on April 30, ending a six-month stay in orbit that began with launch on October 25.

Shenzhou Flight 18 is the seventh manned flight in China Mission to the space station And the fifth since then Recruitment has begun around the clock In June 2022. The launch was broadcast live on Chinese television, presenting stunning footage of the rocket's ascent into space and interior views of the astronauts observing cockpit displays.

Yi is the only astronaut on the crew, completing a 182-day duty tour in 2021-2022 as part of the Shenzhou 13 mission. Li Cong and Li Guangsu are rookies making their first flight.

As a first-time pilot, Li Guangsu said he is looking forward to traveling at 7.9 meters per second, roughly 17,500 miles per hour, and “can't wait” to experience weightlessness.

The Shenzhou 18 crew welcomes reporters at a pre-launch press conference on Wednesday. From left to right: Li Cong, Commander Yi Guangfu, and Li Guangsu. Guangfu is a veteran astronaut, having logged 182 days in orbit during his stay aboard the Tiangong Space Station in 2021-2022. Two of his colleagues are making their first trip.

China Manned Space Agency

“There are no wings, but I can still fly!” He said at the traditional pre-flight press conference. “What a wonderful experience for me. I would also like to take this opportunity to see the blue planet, to get a closer look at the wonderful landscapes of our motherland.”

During their stay in space, Yi and his companions will carry out a full slate of more than 90 scientific research projects along with two or three spacewalks to install external experiments, micrometeorite shielding and other equipment.

The crew will also engage in ongoing science education outreach and will unload the Tianzhou-8 cargo ship before the Shenzhou 19 replacements arrive in October, said Lin Shiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency.

The Chinese space station consists of Three large units Connected in a T-shaped configuration. The Tianhe core module, launched in April 2021, is the centerpiece of the complex, providing crew quarters, life support systems, communications, spacecraft controls, an airlock and multiple docking ports.

Two more large units – Wentian and Mingtian – will be connected to Tianhe in 2022. The mass of the plant is about 100 tons.

The 450-ton International Space Station consists of more than a dozen pressurized modules provided by the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency and Japan. Construction began in 1998, and the laboratory has been permanently staffed by rotating astronaut crews since 2000.

The Shenzhou 18 crew (left) monitors the cockpit displays during the ascent into space while the Shenzhou 17 crew they are replacing monitors the ascent from the Tiangong Space Station.

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The Tiangong Station has been permanently staffed since June 2022 with the arrival of the Shenzhou 14 crew. Although the Chinese laboratory is smaller than the International Space Station, it is newer and equipped with the latest equipment, computers and hardware.

NASA and its partners plan to retire the International Space Station in 2030, resulting in its remote re-entry into the ravaged atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean, far from shipping lanes and populated areas. This will make Tiangong the only government-run space station in low Earth orbit.

NASA is counting on commercial space stations run by private companies to provide research opportunities in Earth's orbit in the 2030s, while the American agency seeks to achieve this. Back to the moon Later in the contract with the agency Artemis program.

China plans to launch its own astronauts to the moon starting in 2030, fueling what NASA Administrator Bill Nelson calls a new superpower space race.

“It's a fact: We're in a space race,” he told Politico magazine in an interview published last year. “And it is true that we had better beware that they will not reach a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. It is not outside the realm of possibility that they will say: 'Go away, we are here'. This is our Earth.”

The Long March-10 lunar rocket, the Mengzhou (Dream Vessel) crew transfer spacecraft, and the Lanyue (Embrace the Moon) lunar lander have completed design reviews and prototypes are currently being tested, CGTN news agency said, citing Lin.

NASA is planning it The first experimental Artemis mission will be scheduled late next yearIt launched three NASA astronauts and a Canadian plane on a circumnavigation of the Moon and back to test the agency's Orion crew transport ship.

A Long March 2F rocket and Shenzhou 18 spacecraft await launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

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If all goes well, NASA plans to send astronauts near the moon's south pole in the 2026-27 time frame. But that will depend on SpaceX perfecting the Starship lunar lander and Super Heavy booster.

China is selecting the fourth batch of astronauts, who Lin said will participate in space station activities as well Upcoming moon missions.

He reiterated his comments he made before the launch of Shenzhou 17, saying that China, like the United States and its partners on the International Space Station, plans to begin launching flyers from other countries, including space tourists.

“We will accelerate research and enhance the participation of foreign astronauts and space tourists in flights with the Chinese space station,” he said in translated remarks published by the Washington Post. “We certainly expect to see astronauts with different identities on the Chinese space station.”

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