China dispatches first crew to new Tiangong space station

NASA Astronaut Danny Olivas on a spacewalk in 2010

NASA Astronaut Danny Olivas on a spacewalk in 2010

A staff member stands in front of the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre near Jiuquan, China.

The Long March-2F rocket that will get them there will lift off at 9:22 am local time (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China's Gobi desert, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said Wednesday.

Shenzhou-12 is the third of 11 missions - four of which will be crewed - needed to complete China's first full-fledged space station.

Nie, a native of central Hubei province and a former air force pilot, will lead the mission.

The Shenzhou-12 crew are to live on the Tianhe, which means "Harmony of the Heavens", a cylinder 16.6 m (55 ft) long and 4.2 m (14 ft) in diameter.

"The (mission) is longer this time, and not only do we have to set up the core module - this "home" in space - we've to carry out a series of pivotal technical tests", Nie told reporters in Jiuquan. A fresh three-member crew and a cargo ship with supplies will be sent in three months.China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of U.S. objections to the Chinese programs secrecy and close military ties.

"This mission is more arduous and the challenges are greater".

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This undated photo shows Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng (C), Liu Boming (R) and Tang Hongbo who will carry out the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceflight mission.

China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of US objections to the Chinese program's secrecy and close military ties.

Outer space is a shared asset of all people on Earth, and space exploration is a universal cause for humankind, said Ji, adding that China is open to cooperation and exchanges with all nations and regions around the globe that are dedicated to the peaceful use of outer space. "The mission has thus become extremely complex and tough". He will be the oldest Chinese astronaut to go into space. However, China has been stepping up cooperation with Russian Federation and a host of other countries, and its station may continue operating beyond the International Space Station, which is reaching the end of its functional life.

After climbing aboard the Tianhe module, the astronauts will spend three months living and working there, outstripping the previous 33-day record for a Chinese crewed mission held by the astronauts of the Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016.

Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Agency, said in April that more than 20 cabinets aboard the space station will be reserved for scientific instruments designed in accordance with worldwide standards, adding that these will be available for global cooperation.

"We're willing to carry out more extensive worldwide exchanges and cooperation with other countries on the issue of debris from spacecraft and in space", Ji said.

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