The screen shot at Beijing Aerospace Operations Center on Sept. 17, 2022 shows Shenzhou-14 astronauts Chen Dong (R) and Cai Xuzhe both conducting spacewalking activities outside. (Source: Xinhua/Guo Zhongzheng)
BEIJING, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) — The Shenzhou-14 astronauts, currently in orbit for a six-month mission, will have the privilege of completing construction of China’s space station, the ultimate goal of China’s “three-stage” human space program initiated 30 years ago.
The astronauts, who were sent into orbit on June 5, are awaiting the arrival of the Mengtian laboratory module, which is scheduled to be launched in October. They help to assemble the module and enter it to carry out related work.
China’s Tiangong space station should then be complete, with a three-module configuration consisting of the Tianhe core module and two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian.
In 1992, when building a manned orbital laboratory was still a dream for the Chinese people, China embarked on a “three-step” strategy to advance its human spaceflight program.
The first step was to send astronauts into space and ensure their safe return. The second step was the development of advanced spaceflight techniques and technologies, including extra-vehicle activities and orbital docking. The third step is to build and operate a permanently manned space station.
The construction of the space station is a milestone in China’s space industry. To achieve this goal, China has been pushing the frontiers of space exploration on its own over the past three decades.
In November 1999, seven years after the start of the three-stage space program, China launched its first experimental manned spacecraft Shenzhou-1 with no crew on board. Three more spacecraft were launched between 2001-02 before astronaut Yang Liwei entered space with Shenzhou-5 in October 2003, becoming the country’s first “taikonaut” in orbit.
The country’s first spacewalk was completed by Shenzhou 7 astronaut Zhai Zhigang in September 2008, and two female astronauts were launched – Liu Yang on the Shenzhou 9 mission in 2012 and Wang Yaping on the Shenzhou 10 mission in 2012 June 2013 Wang also entered the space station and conducted a spacewalk as part of the Shenzhou-13 mission from October 2021 to April 2022.
“In the past 30 years, we have overcome many technical difficulties, such as the technologies of space-earth commuting, extra-vehicle activities, rendezvous and docking,” said Yang Liwei.
So far, China has sent 14 astronauts into space.
SPACE LAB FOR EVERYONE
“China plans to develop the space station into a national space laboratory, supporting long-stay astronauts and large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.
To gain experience, China launched the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 experimental space laboratories in 2011 and 2016, respectively. Tiangong-1 tested the technologies in spacecraft rendezvous and docking, and Tiangong-2 conducted more than 60 space science experiments and technology tests.
China officially initiated the construction of its space station in orbit with the launch of the Tianhe core module in April 2021. More than a year later, it launched the first laboratory module of the Wentian space station, which has further enhanced the space station’s scientific and technical experiment functions.
Wentian mainly focuses on life science and biotechnology research. Researchers have planned and implemented more than 10 research topics for Wentian in four areas – space life sciences and biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics, space materials science and new space application technologies.
China’s space program aims to facilitate a global consensus on people’s shared responsibility in using outer space for peaceful purposes and maintaining its security for the benefit of all mankind.
China has actively promoted international cooperation on its space station, including cooperation with the European Space Agency.
China is also working with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to solicit scientists around the world for scientific research projects on the space station. It also promotes extensive international cooperation in the selection and training of astronauts.