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Construction Of China’s First Space Station Starts

HELSINKI: The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft docked with China’s space station module hours after launch from Jiuquan late Wednesday, marking the first crewed visit to the facility.

Shenzhou-12 and its crew of three launched on a Long March 2F from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:22 p.m. Eastern Wednesday.

The spacecraft docked with the Tianhe space station core module at 3:54 a.m. June 17, six hours 32 minutes after launch, the China Manned Space Engineering Office confirmed.

Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo will spend three months aboard the 16.6-meter-long, 4.2-meter-diameter Tianhe (“harmony of the heavens”) module.

Shenzhou-12 mission objectives include extravehicular activities using EVA suits delivered by Tianzhou-2, testing performance of a large robotic arm and verification of a regenerative life support system.

The crewed mission is the third of 11 launches planned for the construction of the three-module Chinese Space Station. The Shenzhou-12 docking was also China’s first autonomous rapid rendezvous and docking while carrying crew.

Tianhe was launched into orbit late April, marking the start of the construction phase of a Chinese space station project first approved in 1992. The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft launched to Tianhe in late May, carrying 4.69 tons of cargo in a pressurized segment to supply the Shenzhou-12 mission. The Shenzhou spacecraft itself carries five days of supplies for the crew.

Shenzhou-12 is commanded by Nie Haisheng, 56, a veteran of the Shenzhou-6 and Shenzhou-10 missions. Also on the mission are Liu Boming, 54, who participated in Shenzhou-7, and Tang Hongbo, 45, making his first flight to space.