The first Chinese three-man crewed mission will launch into space on Thursday as part of China’s ambitious plan to complete the Tiangong space station by the end of next year.
The launch is scheduled for 9:22 a.m. Beijing time (9:22 p.m. ET) Thursday from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
China’s Manned Space Engineering Office made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday.
Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, will be boarding the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft. They will be spending three months on the Tiangong space station.
Shenzhou-12, meaning “Divine Vessel”, will be the third of 11 missions needed to complete China’s space station by 2022. At least four of the missions will be manned.
“First of all, we need to arrange our home in the core module, then get started on a whole range of diagnostic tests on crucial technology and experiments,” said Nie Haisheng, commander of the mission and the most senior of the three who is making his third trip to space.
China has been accelerating its space program to rival the West with the aim of becoming a major spacefaring power by 2030. It became the second country to put a rover on Mars in May, two years after landing its first spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
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