Over the weekend, three Chinese astronauts began their six-month mission on China’s first permanent space station. Viewers could see astronauts floating around the module during a live-streamed video. The new crew includes Wang Yaping, the first Chinese woman to board the Tiangong space station—and likely China’s first female spacewalker.
China is only the third country to put a person in space on its own. The former Soviet Union was first and the United States second. Reaching other planets and racing against other countries to new frontiers has long fascinated humans. The Bible says of God, “The heavens are yours; the Earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them” (Psalm 89:11)—so the Creator was there first! “In the beginning,” before any of the vast universe was created—God was present. (Genesis 1:1)
Since 2003, China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts aboard. The country has also expanded its work on lunar and Mars explorations, including landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
Earlier this year, China set its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars. The probe’s rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the Red Planet.
China has goals for collecting soil from an asteroid and bringing back additional lunar samples. The Chinese space program also hopes to put people on Earth’s Moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
On Saturday, the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was launched by a Long March-2F rocket at 12:23 a.m. It docked with the Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station at 6:56 a.m.
The new crew includes two veterans of space travel—Zhai Zhigang and Wang. The third member, Ye Guangfu, is making his first trip to space.
This is the second crew to move into China’s Tiangong space station, which launched last April. The first crew stayed three months.
The mission was seen off by a military band and supporters singing “Ode to the Motherland,” underscoring national pride in the rapidly advancing space program.
The crew members will do three spacewalks to install equipment in preparation for expanding the station. They will also assess living conditions in the Tianhe module and conduct experiments in space medicine and other fields.
“We’ll co-operate with each other, carefully conduct maneuvers, and try to accomplish all tasks successfully in this round of exploration of the universe,” Wang says.
After the addition of two more sections, the station will weigh about 66 tons. That’s much smaller than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and today weighs around 450 tons.
China’s military-run space program plans to send multiple crews to the station over the next two years.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry renewed its commitment to cooperation with other nations in the peaceful use of space. Spokesperson Zhao Lijian calls sending humans into space a “common cause of mankind.” China hopes to “make positive contributions to the exploration of the mysteries of the universe,” Zhao says.
Chinese officials have said they look forward to hosting astronauts from other countries aboard the space station once it becomes fully functional. China has not participated in the International Space Station—mostly because of U.S. objections to the Chinese program’s secret nature and its military backing.
(At Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, China, on October 16, 2021, Chinese astronauts, from left, Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang, and Wang Yaping, wave after entering the space station core module Tianhe. Tian Dingyu/Xinhua via AP)