Taikonauts return from 3-month stay aboard China’s new space station
- Three astronauts, or taikonauts, landed in Mongolia after three months on China’s new space station.
- The crew of the Shenzhou-12 has just completed the longest space flight in Chinese history.
- China aims to launch another taikonaut crew in October, with the aim of completing its space station in 2022.
China has successfully transported astronauts to and from its new space station for the first time.
On Friday, astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – or taikonauts, as China calls them – returned from a three-month stay at the country’s new earth-orbiting station.
“The universe is so vast, beautiful and fascinating. I had the good fortune and the joy to have the chance to fly in the skies again and take a spacewalk on our own space station,” said Boming said after landing, according to SpaceNews.
At present, this station is a single 54-foot-long module containing living quarters for astronauts. China launched this basic module, called Tianhe, in April. Ultimately, the country aims to build a 66-ton Chinese Space Station (CSS) it calls Tiangong.
It’s significantly smaller than the International Space Station (ISS), which weighs around 450 tonnes and is about the length of a football field. U.S. lawmakers have banned Chinese astronauts from accessing the ISS since 2011. However, the ISS is aging and could be out of service by the 2030s.
Once the CSS is finished, China plans to send taikonauts there for six-month stays, much like missions to the ISS. He also expects to accept astronauts from other countries on the CSS. Dmitri Rogozine, director of Roscosmos, told reporters in June that Russia plans to send its own cosmonauts there.
China launched a cargo mission to the Tianhe module in May, proving it can dock a spacecraft at its new station. The taikonaut’s crew followed, taking off aboard a Long March 25 rocket on June 17 for a mission called Shenzhou-12.
Orbiting above Earth, Haisheng, Boming, and Hongbo tested the Tianhe module’s survivability capabilities – its generation of oxygen, its ability to filter the carbon dioxide they exhale, its shields against radiation from the Earth. space and the way it circulates fluids. . They also conducted science experiments and conducted spacewalks to install new equipment on the Tianhe module.
On Friday, the three taikonauts climbed inside their spacecraft and detached it from the Tianhe module. The spacecraft then fired its thrusters to push itself back toward Earth, initiating a high-speed fall through the atmosphere. The capsule released a huge parachute as it approached the ground and drifted towards a landing in the Mongolian desert.
The crew of the Shenzhou-12 have now completed the longest space flight in Chinese history, nearly tripling the previous record.
“I believe that with the continued development of China’s overall strength and national science and technology level, there will be more astronauts setting new records and pushing China’s space work to a new high,” he said. said Haisheng, who commissioned the mission, according to SpaceNews.
China is preparing to launch its next cargo mission to the CSS on Monday, and it aims to send another crew of astronauts to the Tianhe module in October, according to the South China Morning Post.
8 more launches to complete the Chinese space station
The last time China sent humans to space was in 2016, when it launched three taikonauts towards a prototype temporary space station, called Tiangong-2. They stayed there for a month. In 2019, the test station fell back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere, as expected.
But now the country is launching a flurry of rockets with supplies and people to complete its new space station by the end of 2022.
In total, China plans to launch eight additional missions to complete the CSS. This involves the launch of two additional modules, three additional cargo shipments, and three more taikonaut crews – including the cargo shipment scheduled for Monday and the Taikonaut launch in October.
However, future module launches could pose problems. After the launch of the Tianhe module, the body of the Long March 5b rocket carrying it fell into an uncontrolled orbit around Earth. Usually, rocket bodies are programmed to fall into the ocean, but the Long March 5b thruster could have landed anywhere over a vast expanse of the planet, including much of the inhabited world.
The rocket body always landed in the ocean. But the incident sparked an international outcry and criticism from rocket experts. It is not known whether China will change the design of its rocket for the next two module launches. The astronaut and cargo missions, however, will use different rockets that China has previously launched without incident.