With its latest mission, China renews its wish for space cooperation

BEIJING (AP) – Shortly before sending a new three-person crew to its space station, China on Friday renewed its commitment to international cooperation in the peaceful use of space.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said sending humans to space was a “common cause of mankind” and China “will continue to expand depth and breadth of international cooperation and exchange “in crewed space flights and” would make positive contributions to the exploration of mysteries “. of the universe.”

China is to send two men and a woman to spend six months aboard the Tianhe central module of its space station, taking off from the Jiuquan satellite launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwest China, expected shortly after midnight on Saturday.

It will be China’s longest crewed space mission, another important milestone for a program that has grown rapidly in recent years.

China was excluded from the International Space Station in large part due to US objections to the secret nature of the Chinese program and its close military ties, prompting it to launch two experimental modules before starting on the permanent station.

U.S. law requires congressional approval for contacts between U.S. and Chinese space programs, but China is cooperating with space experts from countries like France, Sweden, Russia, and Italy. Chinese officials have said they look forward to welcoming astronauts from other countries aboard the space station once it becomes fully functional.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft carrying the three astronauts will be launched by a Long March-2F rocket. A few hours later, it should dock with the Tianhe module, beginning the mission that will continue the work of the initial crew, who carried out two spacewalks and deployed a 10-meter (33-foot) mechanical arm before come back from their 90 days. stay in mid-September.

The new crew includes two space travel veterans. Pilot Zhai Zhigang, 55, carried out China’s first spacewalk. Wang Yaping, 41, and the only woman on the mission, performed experiments and led a real-time science class while traveling on one of China’s first experimental space stations. The third, Ye Guangfu, 41, trained with the European Space Agency and will travel to space for the first time.

The crew’s planned activities include up to three spacewalks to install equipment for the station expansion, assess living conditions in the module, and conduct experiments in space medicine and in other areas.

China’s military-led space program plans to send several crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional. Shenzhou-13 will be the fifth mission, including unmanned trips to deliver supplies.

When completed with the addition of two more modules – named Mengtian and Wentian – the station will weigh around 66 tonnes, a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh around 450 tonnes once. finished. The two additional modules are expected to be launched before the end of next year during the stay of the Shenzhou-14 crew, who has not yet been named.

China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts on board since 2003, when it became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to send a person into space by its own means. Two Chinese astronauts flew twice.

Along with its crewed missions, China has expanded its work on exploring the Moon and Mars, including placing a rover on the unexplored far side of the Moon and bringing lunar rocks back to Earth for the first time. since the 1970s.

This year, China also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose Zhurong rover explored evidence of life on the Red Planet.

Other programs require collecting soil from an asteroid and bringing back additional lunar samples. China has also expressed its aspiration to send people to the moon and possibly build a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secret space plane is also reportedly in development.

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Travis Durham

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