China launches 3-member crew to its space station

CHINA launched a three-member crew to its orbiting space station on Thursday, April 25, 2024, as part of its ambitious program that aims to put astronauts on the moon by 2030.

The Shenzhou-18 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China atop a Long March 2-F rocket at 8:59 p.m.

The spacecraft’s three-member crew will relieve the Shenzhou-17 team, which has been staffing China’s Tiangong space station since last October.

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) held a send-off ceremony — complete with flag-waving children and patriotic music — for the Shenzhou-18 crew earlier on Thursday, as the three astronauts prepared to enter the spacecraft.

The trio is made of Commander Ye Guangfu, 43, a veteran astronaut who took part in the Shenzhou-13 mission in 2021, and fighter pilots Li Cong, 34, and Li Guangsu, 36, who are spaceflight rookies.

They are expected to reach the space station about six-and-a-half hours after liftoff.

China built its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely because of U.S. concerns over the Chinese military’s involvement in the program. This year, the Chinese station is slated for two cargo spacecraft missions and two manned spaceflight missions.

The Shenzhou-18 crew will spend about six months on the space station. They will conduct scientific tests, among other things, according to Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA. / AP


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