Their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was propelled overnight at 12:23 a.m. by a Long March 2F rocket, from the Jiuquan launch pad in the Gobi Desert (northwest), according to images broadcast live by public television. CCTV.
The China Human Space Flight Agency (CMSA) called the takeoff a success and assured that the crew was
in good health, wrote the state-owned New China News Agency.
A few hours later, Shenzhou-13 docked at the space station’s radial port.
At about 350-400 kilometers above sea level, the three astronauts will stay in Tianhe (
Heavenly harmony), the only module already in orbit of the three that will eventually constitute the space station.
For six months, they will have to continue building the station, check the various equipment, but also carry out scientific experiments, in particular by providing valuable information on how their body adapts to this long stay.
Astronauts will also perform two or three spacewalks.
Their stay will double the length record for a Chinese manned mission, set in September by members of the previous mission, Shenzhou-12, who stayed three months in Tianhe.
The reason for this extended stay is to gain experience in long-term assignmentssays Erik Seedhouse, a professor specializing in space operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the United States.
The main difficulty for astronauts will be to maintain their muscle mass and reduce their bone loss. in a weightless environment that weakens organisms.
Several experiments planned
Chinese astronauts before the take-off of their spacecraft
Photo : Getty Images / Kevin Frayer
The new crew includes two men: Zhai Zhigang (55), the first Chinese to perform a spacewalk, in 2008, and Ye Guangfu (41), whose first space flight is.
They will team up with Wang Yaping (41), who is taking part in a new manned mission, eight years after a first trip in 2013, which made her the second Chinese in space.
Known for having given during her previous stay a live physics course to 60 million schoolchildren thanks to a video link, she will repeat the experience during this mission. She will also become the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk.
China is not going to reinvent the wheel with Shenzhou-13, notes Chen Lan, an analyst with the GoTaikonauts.com website, specializing in the Chinese space program.
This will not be a big challenge for China, as its technologies are now quite mature. But any operation in space is inherently a challenge.
This mission is the fifth of the 11, manned and unmanned, needed in total for the construction of the Chinese space station, which should be completed by the end of 2022.
Called Tiangong (
Heavenly palace), it will be similar in size to the old Soviet station Mir, in operation from 1986 to 2001. Its lifespan will be at least 10 years.
The other two modules making up the station, called Mengtian and Wentian, laboratories, will be sent to space next year and docked in Tianhe. They will allow experiments in biotechnology, medicine or astronomy to be carried out.
China becomes a major player in the space adventure
The Chinese ambition to build a station was fueled by the American refusal to accept Chinese people on the International Space Station – the result of collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
For its part, the Chinese space agency again assured Thursday that foreign astronauts could visit Tiangong.
China has been investing billions of dollars for several decades to catch up with other space powers.
In May, it became the second country, after the United States, to make a small robot evolve on Mars. China also landed a machine on the far side of the Moon in early 2019 – a world first.
Last year, it had brought back lunar samples and finalized Beidou, its navigation system competing with the American GPS. It placed its first sun observation satellite in orbit around the Earth on Thursday.
Looking further ahead, Beijing plans to send humans to the Moon (around 2030) and build a base there with Russia.