China Launches Shenzhou-10 Astronauts For 15-Day Space Mission
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
China launched a manned space mission from the Gobi desert carrying three astronauts on Tuesday morning. The astronauts were launched aboard the Shenzhou-10 for a 15-day mission to an experimental laboratory.
“You are the pride of the Chinese people, and this mission is both glorious and sacred,” President Xi Jinping, who attended the launch, told the three astronauts.
The mission will be the longest time Chinese astronauts have spent in space, marking the fifth manned mission for the country since 2003. The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft will be docking with the Tiangong 1, which is a test laboratory module. Tiangong 1, or the “Heavenly Palace,” was first launched back in September 2011. The module was visited by China’s Shenzhou-8 and Shenzhous-9 spaceships back in 2011 and 2012.
The crew from the latest mission, which includes one female and two male astronauts, will conduct experiments as well as broadcast a series of lectures to students back on Earth.
Eventually, China says it will be sending its astronauts to board its future space station, Tiangong-2. This module is expected to weigh 60 tons and be about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station (ISS).
“The focus is now shifting from the near-term to those future systems,” Charles Vick, an expert on the Chinese and Soviet space programs at GlobalSecurity.org told the Associated Press. “China´s space program has been a very deliberately focused effort that focuses on specific science and technology goals.”
Although it is one of the few nations to launch humans from its own soil into space, China still has a lot of catching up to do with the US and Russian space agencies. However, if it accomplishes one feat it set out to do last year then it will be quickly catching up. China said in August 2012 that it would be landing a craft on the moon in the second half of 2013, setting itself up for an eventual manned trip to the moon in the following years.
“Nobody knows where the next astronauts on the moon will come from. But I expect there is a good chance that they will be Chinese,” said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert. “China´s space program is moving steadily forward. If they continue at this pace, they will develop the capability to reach the moon around 2030.”