As China prepares to deploy its first crew to the International Space Station, a rocket is being moved to the launch pad.
The rocket that will carry the first crew members to China’s new orbiting space station has been moved to the launch pad in preparation for its launch next week.
The three astronauts intend to stay on the space station for three months, performing spacewalks, building and maintenance work, and science experiments.
The Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, station’s main portion was launched into orbit on April 29, and a cargo vehicle delivered fuel, food, and equipment to the station last month in preparation for the crewed mission.
According to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, the Long March-2F Y12 rocket carrying the Shenzhou-12 spaceship was relocated to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-west China on Wednesday. It’s expected to go live next Wednesday.
The space agency expects 11 missions between now and the end of next year to send two laboratory modules, as well as supplies and crew members, to the 70-ton station. The launch next week will be the third of those, as well as the first of four crewed missions planned.
In March, China announced that the astronauts training for the forthcoming crewed flights were a mix of space veterans and rookies, with several women among them.
To far, it has sent 11 astronauts into space, all of whom are pilots from the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.
According to Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth on China’s first crewed mission in 2003 and is now an official at the space agency, the first Tianhe crew will be entirely male, but women will be part of future crews aboard the station.
China gained experience managing two experimental space stations previously in its increasingly ambitious space program, and the Tianhe builds on that.
Chinese astronauts lived in the second of the previous stations for 33 days, doing a spacewalk and teaching scientific lessons to children across the country.
Last month, China sent the Tianwen-1 probe to Mars, which contained the Zhurong rover. It has also returned with lunar samples. (This is a brief piece.)