China sends 2 taikonauts to space for 30-day orbital lab mission

Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong blasts off from the launchpad in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016. © China Daily
China has sent a two-man crew into orbit aboard Shenzhou-11, a “heavenly vessel”, for the country’s longest-ever crewed space mission so far. The previous record for the country was 15 days, during the Shenzhou 10 mission back in 2013.

The Shenzhou-11 blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 7:30am local time on top of the Long March-2F carrier rocket.

Taikonauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will spend 30 days in space after docking with space laboratory Tiangong-2, which was sent into orbit last month, where it is currently positioned 393 kilometers from Earth.

Once the crew reaches the orbiting lab in approximately two days, the Chinese will study the feasibility of the space complex to support astronauts’ life.

Chinese engineers will study medicine, physics and biology in the space lab. Experiments will include ultrasound inspection experiments, cardiopulmonary function, samples and plant cultivation, in addition to orbital repair experiments.

To better accommodate the crew on their space travel, the taikonauts have been equipped with Bluetooth headsets and audio and video devices allowing them to communicate with their families and watch entertainment programs transmitted from the ground. The crew will also be offered a fitness facility to maintain muscular function in zero gravity and will have cycling and running equipment at their disposal.

After sending the country’s first taikonaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003, China has been focusing on developing advanced spaceflight techniques and technologies to assemble and operate a permanent manned space station.

By around 2022, China hopes to set up the country’s first modular space station. It is expected to consist of three segments – two labs attached to a core module.

The setup will enable taikonauts to be stationed in orbit for missions that last more than one year. The station is designed for an operational life of at least 10 years.

Monday’s launch marks a key step towards China’s plan to eventually operate a permanent space station. Besides the orbital outpost plans, China aims to send the Chang’e-5 probe to the moon in the second half of 2017 and to land a probe on Mars by 2022.