China to launch 3 astronauts to space station tonight
The Shenzhou-12 mission is scheduled to lift off tonight (June 16) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 9:22 p.m. EDT (0122 GMT on June 17).
Science & Tech
China is poised to launch its first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years.
The Shenzhou-12 mission is scheduled to lift off tonight (June 16) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 9:22 p.m. EDT (0122 GMT and 9:22 a.m. Beijing time on June 17), Chinese space officials announced on Tuesday (June 15).
Shenzhou-12 will launch atop a Long March 2F rocket and send three astronauts to Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens"), the core module of China's new space station.
The identity of the three Shenzhou-12 crewmembers was also announced on Tuesday. They are all men: astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo. Nie has flown twice before, on the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005 and Shenzhou-10 in 2013. Liu flew on Shenzhou-7 in 2008, and Tang is a spaceflight rookie, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
The most recent Chinese crewed spaceflight, Shenzhou-11, launched in October 2016. That mission carried three astronauts to the Tiangong-2 space lab, a prototype precursor of the new station, for a one-month stay.
The Shenzhou-12 crew, by contrast, will spend three months aboard Tianhe, which launched to low Earth orbit on April 28. Though the module has been aloft for less than two months, it has already received a robotic visitor — the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft, which delivered 6.6 tons of supplies to the core module late last month.
Shenzhou-12 is the third of 11 missions that will be required to complete the construction of China's new space station, Chinese space officials have said. Two of those flights will loft additional modules, which will link up on either side of the central Tianhe. There will also be three more robotic cargo missions and three more crewed flights during the construction phase, which is expected to wrap up by the end of 2022.