China’s space ambitions surged on Thursday as three astronauts arrived at the country’s nascent space station.
The Chinese “Shenzhou 12” spacecraft successfully docked with the Tianhe central module of the space station under construction.
The mooring maneuver was carried out automatically, Chinese media reported. The flight represented China’s first manned space mission in five years.
The three Chinese astronauts were to spend three months in orbit, a record for Chinese “taikonauts,” and would use that time to help set up the space station.
The station was under construction and two more modules were to be connected to it before its completion in 2022.
Shenzhou 12 carrying Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo took off from Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert on Thursday morning.
During their stay, the astronauts led by Commander Nie, 56, planned to test important functions of the central module and also carried out science experiments.
The flight schedule was planned on a tight schedule, with the next refueling flight scheduled to begin in September.
The last cargo flight with equipment and fuel was dispatched at the end of May.
Three more astronauts would follow in October.
To complete the space station, two other laboratory modules, each weighing about 20 tons, would also be unveiled in space. Two other cargo flights and two manned missions were planned for 2022.
If the International Space Station (ISS) ceases to function as planned in the next few years, China would be the only country to still operate a permanent outpost in space. (dpa / NAN)