They left. The three Chinese astronauts took off Thursday, June 17, for the first manned flight to the “Heavenly Palace” that Beijing is assembling facing the International Space Station. At the scheduled time, the Longue-Marche 2F rocket left at 9:22 a.m. (3:22 a.m. French time) its launch pad from the Jiuquan space launch center, in the Gobi desert (north-west).
This is the first manned flight for China in nearly five years and a record time in space in perspective for the Asian giant: the three astronauts, whose names were not revealed until Wednesday, will stay three months in orbit. In a context of tension with the West, the success of the mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing, which is preparing to celebrate the 1is July the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The three soldiers took place aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft which will dock with the only module of the station already in space. Control center and home for astronauts, this module was placed at the end of April in low earth orbit (at an altitude of 350-390 km). On board, the astronauts will be busy with maintenance, equipment installation, spacewalks, preparation for upcoming construction missions and stays of future crews.
Called Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), the Chinese space station, when completed, will be similar in size to the former Soviet Mir station (1986-2001). Its lifespan will be at least ten years.
China resolved to build its own space station after the United States refused to let it participate in the International Space Station (ISS). The latter – which brings together the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is due to retire in 2024, even though NASA has mentioned a possible extension beyond 2028.
On Wednesday, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his American teammate Shane Kimbrough carried out a more than seven-hour spacewalk without a hitch to deploy a next-generation solar panel outside the ISS.
“We are ready to cooperate with any country that is committed to the peaceful use of outer space”Ji Qiming, a senior official of the Chinese Human Space Flight Agency (CMSA), said on Wednesday.
Just before their departure, the mission commander, Nie Haisheng, accompanied by Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, said goodbye to their relatives and colleagues in a ceremony with strong patriotic content during which an old revolutionary refrain resounded. : “No New China Without the Communist Party”.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the three astronauts sent a military salute to journalists, in front of a large red flag with five stars. Nie Haisheng, who has already carried out two space flights, underlined the patriotic dimension of the operation. “For decades, we have written glorious chapters in Chinese space history and our mission embodies the expectations of the people and the party itself.”, did he declare.
The trio underwent more than 6,000 hours of training, including tumbles in the pool in spacesuits, in order to get used to weightless rides. “We fought every minute to fulfill our space dream”, testified Liu Boming, one of the crew members. “I trained by dedicating myself to the cause. “
In their capsule, the three soldiers will have the choice between 120 foods at mealtime and will be able to train on a treadmill to keep in shape.