Another cargo mission is planned for September, shortly after which a replacement crew will be sent up, according to reports. The station's other two modules are expected to be launched next year.
China said in March the astronauts training for the upcoming crewed missions were a mix of space travel veterans and newcomers and included some women. China has sent 11 astronauts into space to date, all of them pilots from the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.
The first Tianhe crew will be all male, though women will be part of future crews on the station, according to Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth in China’s first crewed mission in 2003 and is now an official at the space agency.
The Tianhe builds on experience China gained from operating two experimental space stations earlier in its increasingly ambitious space program. Chinese astronauts spent 33 days living on the second of the previous stations, carried out a spacewalk and taught science classes that were beamed down to students across the country.
China landed a probe, the Tianwen-1, on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong. It also has brought back lunar samples, the first by any country’s space program since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side.
Beijing doesn’t participate in the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns over the Chinese program’s secrecy and its military connections. Despite that, foreign science missions and possibly foreign astronauts are expected to visit the Chinese station in future.
Once completed, the Tianhe will allow for stays of up to six months, similar to the much larger International Space Station.
The Chinese station reportedly is intended to be used for 15 years and may outlast ISS, which is nearing the end of its functional lifespan.
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceship with its Long March-2F carrier rocket is being prepared at the launching area of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China Gansu province, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. A three-man crew of astronauts will blast off in June for a three-month mission on China's new space station, according to a space official who was the country's first astronaut in orbit in May. (Wang Jiangbo/Xinhua via AP)
Credit: Wang Jiangbo
Credit: Wang Jiangbo