Chinese astronauts set up new lab on space station
Beijing (AFP) – Astronauts entered the Chinese space station’s new laboratory module for the first time on Monday, a major step towards completing the orbital outpost by the end of the year.
The station is one of the crown jewels of Beijing’s ambitious space program, which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made China the third country to put humans in orbit.
Once completed, Tiangong – or “heavenly palace” – will be constantly inhabited by rotating teams of three astronauts, who will conduct scientific experiments and help test new technologies.
Wentian, the second of Tiangong’s three main sections, docked with the station’s main module, Tianhe, on Monday after successfully launching from southern China a day earlier, state media reported.
Hours after docking, the three astronauts – who have been living in the core module since June – opened the hatch and entered Wentian, footage from public broadcaster CCTV showed.
The crew, dressed in blue coveralls, were seen floating around the brightly lit module before facing the camera and saluting.
Wentian will focus on life science and biotechnology research, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, including cell research and growth experiments on plants, fruit flies and zebrafish.
The module will have living space for three additional astronauts, accommodating up to six people during crew transitions, state media said.
The third and final module, another lab named Mengtian, is expected to launch in October.
Tiangong, when completed, is expected to remain in low orbit 400-450 kilometers (250-280 miles) above Earth for at least 10 years.
Next year, China also plans to launch a space telescope with a field of view 350 times greater than that of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
The telescope will be positioned in the same orbit as Tiangong, allowing the station to dock there for refueling and maintenance should the need arise.
China has invested billions of dollars in space flight and exploration as it seeks to build a program that reflects its stature as a rising global power.
The program has quickly achieved successes over the past two decades, including the launch of the first Chinese astronauts, a historic first controlled landing on the far side of the Moon and the delivery of a rover to the surface of Mars.
And after several missions to test the technologies needed for a constantly equipped outpost, he should complete Tiangong this year.
When completed, the station is expected to have a mass of 90 tons, about a quarter of the International Space Station, from which China has been barred by the United States.
The ISS – a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is due to be retired after 2024, although NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.
© 2022 AFP