China launches longest manned space mission, aims to explore ‘more deeply and more broadly’
By Simon Denyer
Oct 16 2016
China’s march into space took another step forward Monday, as two astronauts embarked on the nation’s longest manned mission.
The pair aim to dock with an orbiting space lab and remain aboard for 30 days, a crucial step in China’s plans to operate its own space station by 2022, and part of a much broader space program that has ambitions to put astronauts back on the moon and land an unmanned rover on Mars.
State-run China Central Television (CCTV) showed the Shenzou-II spacecraft taking off from a launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China at 7:30 a.m., carried by a Long March-2F rocket.
The pair were seen on board saluting seconds before takeoff. They will dock with the Tiangong-2 lab in two days, and conduct a series of scientific experiments, testing computers as well as propulsion and life-support systems, CCTV reported.
After the launch was declared a success, Defense Minister Fan Changlong read a congratulatory message from President Xi Jinping calling for China’s astronauts to explore space “more deeply and more broadly.”
The president also encouraged them to “constantly break new ground for the manned space program, so that Chinese people will take bigger steps and march further in [their] space probe, to make new contributions to the building of China into a space power.”
The astronauts were Jing Haipeng, who will turn 50 during the trip and is flying his third mission, and Chen Dong, 37.
“It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” Jing said Sunday, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
China is spending heavily on a space program that aims to catch up with established space powers the United States and Russia, and outpace Asian rivals India and Japan. As in all those countries, the space program is a source of great national pride.
China was excluded from participation on the International Space Station, largely because of U.S. concerns that its space program had a strong military component.
Instead, it aims to build its own space station, and hopes that other countries will also launch missions there. It insists that its motives are peaceful.
“Shenzhou-11 is a new beginning. It marks the imminent end to the exploratory stage of China’s manned space program,” said Zhang Yulin, deputy commander in chief of China’s manned space program, who is also deputy chief of the armament development department of the Central Military Commission.