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October 18, 2021

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Astronauts dock on Tiangong space station

Three Chinese astronauts began their six-month mission on China’s first permanent space station on Saturday, after successfully docking aboard their spacecraft.

The astronauts, two men and a woman, were seen floating around the module before speaking via a livestreamed video.

The new crew includes Wang Yaping, 41, who is the first Chinese woman to board the Tiangong space station, and is expected to become China’s first female spacewalker.

“We’ll co-operate with each other, carefully conduct maneuvers, and try to accomplish all tasks successfully in this round of exploration of the universe,” said Wang in the video.

After successfully stationing in China’s space station core module Tianhe, the Shenzhou-13 crew opened the hatch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft and entered it at 9:50am, the China Manned Space Agency said yesterday.

Tianzhou-3, launched on September 20, carries nearly 6 tons of goods and materials, including living supplies for the astronauts, one extravehicular spacesuit for back-up, supplies for extravehicular activities, space station platform materials, payloads and propellants.

The crew will also open the hatch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft. They will carry out cargo transfer and other related work as planned.

The space travelers’ Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was launched by a Long March-2F rocket at 12:23am on Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, and docked with the Tianhe core module of the space station at 6:56am.

The three astronauts entered the station’s core module at about 10am, the CMSA said.

They are the second crew to move into China’s Tiangong space station, which was launched last April. The first crew stayed for three months.

This time’s six-month stay will set a new record for China’s crewed space mission duration. The crew includes two veterans of space travel — Zhai Zhigang, 55, and Wang. The third member, Ye Guangfu, 41, is making his first trip to space.

The mission will test key technologies for assembly and construction of China’s space station, such as module transfer supported by the robotic arm and manual remote operation, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, said earlier.

The astronauts will perform two or three spacewalks during the mission to install the dual-arm connector, the device to link the big and small mechanical arms, as well as the suspension device, Lin said.

The mission will further verify the health, living and working support technologies for astronauts’ six-month stay in orbit, he said.

The astronauts will also carry out sci-tech experiments and applications in fields such as space medicine and micro-gravity physics, as well as diversified public science education activities, he said.

It will be physically and psychologically challenging to work and live in a zero-gravity environment for six months, Lin said, adding that the astronauts will have in-orbit exercises and mental health support to help them stay at their best.

The ground team will optimize their menu and provide psychological support based on the monthly assessment of the astronauts’ status, said Lin.

The mission has special designs against debris and other space objects, for instance, reinforced structures against tiny debris and evasive maneuvers against larger debris and other objects.

Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.


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