China's longest manned space mission takes off
Steph Deschamps / October 16, 2021
Three astronauts, including a woman, took off very early Saturday for the Chinese space station under construction, where they should stay six months, a record duration for the Asian giant, according to images broadcast live by the state television CCTV.
Their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was propelled overnight at 00:23 by a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi Desert (northwest). The three astronauts will join Tianhe (Celestial Harmony), the only module already in orbit out of the three that will eventually constitute the space station. The mission of the crew is to continue the construction of the station, to check its various equipment and to carry out some scientific experiments. They will also carry out two or even three spacewalks. Their stay will double the record of duration for a Chinese manned mission, established in September by the astronauts of the previous mission, Shenzhou-12, who stayed three months in Tianhe. The new crew includes two men: General Zhai Zhigang (55 years old), who was the first Chinese to perform a spacewalk in 2008, and Ye Guangfu (41 years old), whose first flight in space.
They will team up with Wang Yaping (41), who is participating in a new manned mission, eight years after a first trip in 2013, which made her the second Chinese woman in space. Known for having given a live physics lesson to 60 million schoolchildren during her previous stay thanks to a video link, she will repeat the experience during this Shenzhou-13 mission. She will become the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk. This mission is the fifth of 11 (manned and unmanned) that will be required in total to build the Chinese space station, which should be completed by the end of 2022. Called Tiangong (Celestial Palace), it will be similar in size to the former Soviet station Mir (1986-2001). Its life span will be at least 10 years.