Chinese astronauts dock with Tiangong space station

A Chinese spacecraft carrying three people has docked successfully with the country’s new space station. The Shenzhou-12 rocket blasted off blasted off about six hours earlier to take part in a three-month mission to set up experiments and prepare for a series of space walks.

This latest mission is considered a significant step forward in establishing Beijing as a major player in space. For the next three months, the crew of three will live in a module slightly larger than a city bus, carrying out experiments, going on space walks, and preparing the station for completion next year.

China’s space agency will be monitoring the astronauts to see how they handle the time away from Earth. China’s space program is mostly homegrown. The United States Congress forbade NASA from cooperating with China ten years ago.

It cited concerns over the Chinese space program’s secretive nature, and its connections to the military. The International Space Station, launched in 1998, has hosted astronauts from over a dozen different nations – but for China, it’s off limits. Beijing’s response? We’ll build one ourselves.

While the ISS reaches the end of its lifespan, China plans to complete its station by next year. And when it does, it will be in a position to decide who can come aboard. While there’s still work to be done on the space station, China is already looking ahead to its next project, a proposed lunar base that it’s planning together with Russia.

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