China's youngest-ever crew of astronauts embarked on a historic journey as they set off for the Tiangong space station, marking a significant milestone in China's space exploration ambitions.
A new generation of Taikonauts: With an average age of 38, the crew of the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft, dubbed the "Divine Vessel,” lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Oct. 26, reported Reuters.
The mission is led by former Air Force pilot Tang Hongbo, who previously embarked on a space journey in 2021 and is now setting a record by achieving the shortest interval between two spaceflight missions by a Chinese astronaut. Tang, 48, is joined by newcomers Tang Shengjie, 33, and Jiang Xinlin, 35, both from China's third batch of astronauts. They are set to replace a crew that stayed on the station for six months.
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About the mission: The Shenzhou-17 astronauts are tasked with conducting experiments in space medicine, technology and other areas during their six-month mission, according to the China Manned Space Agency. The mission is set to contribute to the development and maintenance of equipment both inside and outside the Tiangong space station, China’s own permanent space outpost in orbit.
The station, which has a lifespan of 15 years, is positioned to become a prominent player once the NASA-led International Space Station (ISS) retires in 2030. China has previously indicated plans to expand the Tiangong, adding three modules to accommodate more astronauts concurrently, potentially overtaking the ISS in capacity. The mission also includes a planned installation of a new telescope that would allow scientists to map outer space and conduct surveys.
Race to the moon: China's focus on lunar missions aligns with its aspiration to put astronauts on the Moon by 2030, rivaling the U.S. in the current global space race.
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The successful launch of the Shenzhou-17 crew underscores the competition for influence between the world's two largest economies in technology, military and diplomatic fields. China’s lunar program has reached several milestones, including becoming the first to land on the far side of the Moon and bringing back samples from its surface.
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