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Sat. May 25th, 2024

China’s Manned Space Agency has announced that it will launch a new crew to the Tiangong space station on Thursday evening. The Shenzhou-18 mission is set to lift off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 8:59 pm local time (12:59 GMT), marking the latest step in China’s ambitious space program, which aims to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030.**

Leading the crew of the Shenzhou-18 mission is Ye Guangfu, a seasoned astronaut and former member of the Shenzhou-13 mission. Joining him are Li Cong and Li Guangsu, who will be venturing into space for the first time. At a press conference on Wednesday, Ye said the launch was a “new beginning” for him and his colleagues. He expressed confidence in the mission, stating that he and his teammates are fully prepared for the journey ahead.

Li Guangsu, one of the first-time astronauts, shared his excitement about the mission, expressing a personal desire to see the Earth from space. “I want to take a good look at the beautiful blue planet, the splendid mountains, and rivers of the motherland,” he said. “I also want to see for my lovely child if the stars in the sky can really twinkle or not.” The crew is expected to stay in orbit for six months, conducting various scientific experiments and collaborating with other active astronauts in the Tiangong station.

The Tiangong, or “heavenly palace,” serves as the centerpiece of China’s space program. Since its completion in 2022, it has been continuously crewed by rotating teams of three astronauts. The space station orbits Earth at an altitude of between 400 and 450 kilometers (250 and 280 miles) and is expected to remain operational for at least 10 years. During their six-month stay, the Shenzhou-18 crew will carry out experiments in gravity and physics, as well as a project on high-resolution global greenhouse gas detection.

The Tiangong space station is a testament to China’s growing prowess in space exploration. As one of only three countries to have independently put humans in orbit, China continues to advance its space ambitions. Plans to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 are well underway, with intentions to establish a lunar base. This ambitious goal aligns with China’s broader “space dream,” driven by significant investments in its military-run space program. The country has secured new international partners for its planned lunar base, known as the International Lunar Research Station, which Beijing aims to complete by 2030.

Despite being excluded from the International Space Station due to a U.S. ban on NASA engaging with China, the country has steadily built its own space capabilities. Yang Liwei, China’s first man in space, expressed optimism for future cooperation with other nations, including the United States. “Because lots of the astronauts in the US are also our good friends, and we are all familiar with each other,” he remarked. With a fresh crew heading to Tiangong and a future Moon landing in sight, China’s space journey is gaining momentum.

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