Mon, Oct 17, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Two astronauts set to blast off for PRC space station

AP, BEIJING

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, left, and Chen Dong wave at a news conference yesterday before China launches the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft in Jiuquan, China.

Photo: Reuters

Chinese officials unveiled plans for today’s launch of the country’s latest space mission in which two astronauts would be blasted into space and would dock with an orbiting space lab.

The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft was to be launched at 7:30am, China Manned Space Engineering Office deputy director Wu Ping said in a televised news conference.

The Shenzhou mission was to take off aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi in northern China.

The spacecraft is expected to dock with the Tiangong 2 space station within two days and the astronauts are to stay there for 30 days to test the complex’s ability to support their life.

They are also to conduct medical and scientific experiments, Wu said.

An earlier Tiangong 1 experimental space station launched in 2011 went out of service in March after extending its mission for two years and docking with three visiting spacecraft.

The Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace,” stations are considered stepping stones to a mission to Mars by the end of the decade.

Wu identified the astronauts flying the mission as 49-year-old Jing Haipeng (景海鵬) and 37-year-old Chen Dong (陳冬).

It would be Jing’s third flight into space following missions in 2008 and 2012.

“It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” Jing said at a separate briefing.

The state-run China Youth Daily newspaper said Jing would celebrate his 50th birthday in space.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country after Russia and the US to do so, and has since staged a spacewalk and landed its Yutu rover on the moon.

Administrators suggest sending people to the moon might also be in the program’s future.

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