China launches two astronauts on Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, heading for orbital lab
Oct 18 2016 by Michele Stevens
The Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or "Heavenly Palace 2" that will serve as home for the two astronauts for the next month, was launched into space just last month. The rendezvous will happen at an orbit about 393 kilometers above Earth, the same height the future Chinese space station will operate at.
General Zhang Youxia declared the launch "a complete success" at a press conference.
China's space program also opened a fourth spacecraft launch site at Wenchang on the island province of Hainan in June.
The space lab underwent several weeks of testing before the go-ahead was given for Monday's launch.
The Chinese began their worldwide space mission in the early 1990s and their first astronaut was sent to space in 2003.
"China has seven Yuanwang space-tracking ships, which have carried out some 70 expeditions and travelled more than 1.5 million nautical miles", it said.
The crew members will carry out materials science experiments, medical research, three student experiments, plant growth studies and test orbital fix techniques. A fully functioning space station is on course to begin operating six years from now and slated to run for at least a decade.
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Alexander Zheleznyakov, a Russian expert on the history of space flights, applauded the Chinese space programmes, particularly the lunar exploration programme, calling them "impressive and admirable".
"The astronauts can now have a better dining and sleeping environment in the spacelab, and they have also physical exercises for experiments and recreation facilities", Wu Ping said in translated remarks last month.
Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, met with the astronauts Monday before the launch, the country's state news agency Xinhua reported, according to Reuters. It is expected to dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 in two days and the astronauts will stay in the lab for 30 days.
Tiangong-2 has the capacity to support a crew of two for 30 days, but the permanent station will be equipped to support three astronauts - or taikonauts as they are called in China - for about 40 days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his congratulatory message, said the Shenzhou-11 mission with Tiangong-2 "marks a new milestone in our manned space flight mission in China". Both astronauts will conduct experiments in medicine, and test a range of technologies to prepare for the launch of the station's core module in 2018. It has already conducted a space walk and is only the third country after Russian Federation and the United States to carry out its own crewed space missions.
The Shenzhou-5 mission, launched in October 2003, was China's first crewed spaceflight.
The Tiangong - 1 seems to return back to earth in 2017.