Posted on Wed Jun 16, 2021 at 10:33am

Mission embodies the hope of “the people and the party”: On the eve of their lift-off to the under-construction Chinese space station, the three astronauts made the patriotic fibers vibrate on Wednesday.

China’s space agency in charge of human spaceflight (CMSA) confirmed Thursday at 09:22 (01:22 GMT) the launch of three astronauts to the space station, on a first three-month mission.

It will be the first manned flight to China in nearly five years and a record time in space for the Asian giant.

In the context of tension with the West, the success of the mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing, which is preparing to celebrate on July 1 the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.

During a press conference held Wednesday at the Jiuquan Space Launch Center, in the Gobi Desert (Northwest), the three astronauts sent a military salute to reporters, in front of a large five-star red flag.

The mission leader, Ni Hai Sheng, who had already made two spaceflights, emphasized the patriotic dimension of the operation.

“For decades, we have been writing glorious chapters in Chinese space history, and our mission embodies the expectations of the people and the party itself,” he said.

The three men will take off from the Jiuquan base in the Gobi Desert (Northwest).

It will take place aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket, which will dock at Tianhe (“Heavenly Harmony”), the only unit of the station already in space.

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The control center and home of astronauts, Tianhe at the end of April was placed in low Earth orbit (350-390 km above sea level).

On board, the astronauts will not be idle: maintenance, equipment installation, spacewalks, preparation for upcoming construction missions and accommodation of future crews.

– ‘Every minute’ fight –

The trio underwent more than 6,000 hours of training, including falling into the pool in space suits, in order to get a feel for weight-free riding.

“We struggled every minute to realize our dream of space,” said Liu Buming, one of the crew members. “I trained by dedicating myself to the cause.”

In their capsule, the three soldiers will have a choice of 120 types of foods at meal time, and they will be able to train on a treadmill to keep fit.

The Shenzhou-12 mission is the third launch of the 11 that will be required to build the station between 2021 and 2022. Altogether, four manned missions are planned.

In addition to the already existing Tianhe, the remaining two units – which will be laboratories – are expected to be sent into space next year.

These will make it possible to conduct experiments in biotechnology, medicine, astronomy or space technologies.

Named in English CSS (for “Chinese Space Station”) and in Chinese Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), when complete, it will be similar in size to the former Soviet Mir station (1986-2001). She will be at least 10 years old.

China decided to build its own space station after the United States refused to allow it to participate in the International Space Station (ISS).

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The latter – which brings together the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – is due to retire in 2024, even if NASA mentions a possible extension beyond 2028.

“We are ready to cooperate with any country committed to the peaceful use of outer space,” Ji Qiming, a senior CMSA official told reporters.

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