Chinese astronauts en route to Tiangong-2 space lab


shenzhou-11 successful launchShenzhou XI manned spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China, Oct 17, 2016. [Photo by Xu Dong/]

China launched the Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft on Monday morning to transport two astronauts to the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations on the successful launch. Xi expressed congratulations and greetings to all researchers and staff engaged in the mission as well as the astronauts.

Xi urged staff of the mission to carry on their work to guarantee that designated targets will be realized. He also encouraged them to “constantly break new ground for the manned space program, so that Chinese people will take bigger steps and march further in space probe, to make new contribution to the building of China into a space power.”

Xi sent the message from the western Indian state of Goa where he attended the eighth summit of the emerging-market bloc of BRICS, which groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The spacecraft was sent skyward at 7:30 am atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China. It is carrying two male astronauts – 49-year-old Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

Shenzhou-11 astronauts

Taikonauts Jing Haipeng (L) and Chen Dong attend the see-off ceremony of the Shenzhou-11 manned space mission at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province, Oct. 17, 2016. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

After the launch, the spacecraft will travel two days before docking with the Tiangong-2, which was lifted from the Jiuquan center in mid-September. Then the astronauts will enter the space lab and stay there for 30 days, which will be the longest space stay by Chinese astronauts.

The core tasks of the Shenzhou-11 mission are to test rendezvous and docking technologies for the country’s planned space station, to verify the life-support capability of the spacecraft-space lab combination as well as conduct scientific research and test engineering experiments, according to Wu Ping, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency.

Prior to the Shenzhou XI, China had sent five spacecraft and 10 astronauts to space since 2003, when it lifted the Shenzhou V to carry the nation’s first astronaut Yang Liwei, who is now a senior space official, into space.

China is the third country in the world that has independently fulfilled manned spaceflight following the former Soviet Union and the United States.

China’s manned space program, a source of national pride, aims to place a permanent manned space station, which will consist of three parts — a core module attached to two labs, each weighing about 20 metric tons —into service around 2022, according to the manned space agency.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, congratulated Shenzhou on the launch.

Information for this story taken from Xinhua and China Daily.