China Launches Space Mission

Taikonauts Jing Haipeng (R) and Chen Dong will stay in space for 30 days.Taikonauts Jing Haipeng (R) and Chen Dong will stay in space for 30 days.

China has launched two astronauts into space on a mission to dock with an experimental space station. The launch marks the latest stage in the country’s space program development.

The Shenzhou 11 mission took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of Gobi Desert in northern China at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning (2330 UTC Sunday) aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket.

Space program commander-in-chief, General Zhang Youxia, declared the launch a success 16 minutes later. Defense Minister Fan Changlong then read a congratulatory message from President Xi Jinping, calling for China’s astronauts to explore space “more deeply and more broadly”, AP reported

On board the spaceship are astronauts Jing Haipeng who is flying his third mission and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

“It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” Jing, who will celebrate his 50th birthday during his time in space, told a briefing on Sunday.

Within two days, the spacecraft is due to dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, which was sent into space last month.

The astronauts, also known as taikonauts, will spend about a month on board the experimental station, which is the first stage in China’s plans to set up a permanent manned space station by 2022.

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

China is developing a Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket to launch Tiangong 2’s additional components.

The space program has planned 20 missions for this year and aims to land a rover on Mars by 2020.

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