BEIJING: China will launch manned spacecraft with two astronauts on board Monday morning, an official from the country’s manned space program revealed Sunday.
Wu Ping, the office’s deputy director, told a press conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert that the 7:30 a.m. (2330GMT Sunday) launch will see the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft take Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong into space.
State news agency Xinhua quoted her as saying that the Shenzhou-11 is due to dock within two days with orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 — launched last month — where the astronauts will stay for 30 days.
According to Wu, the objectives of the mission include carrying out experiments in the space science and aerospace medical fields, transporting personnel and materials between Earth and Tiangong-2, and assessing technologies related to rendezvous maneuvers, docking and return.
Other capabilities that will be examined include the complex’s ability to support astronauts’ life, work and health as well as astronauts’ abilities to conduct flight missions.
Jing, the 49-year-old commander of this mission who has partici[ated in two previous spaceflights, told reporters that despite the task being “challenging, risky and dangerous”, “there is nothing more I would rather do.”
Meanwhile the younger astronaut Chen, who will serve as a crew member on a manned spacecraft for the first time, said, “I will treasure every moment in space and ensure I record my experience in my diary and enjoy the out-of-this-world scenery.”
The Tiangong-2 was China’s second spacelab blasted into space as part of the country’s efforts to develop its space and technology programs.
In August, the country launched the world’s first quantum satellite — Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or QUESS — designed to establish “hack-proof” communications.
Authorities have expressed expectations that by 2020, the construction of the country’s first orbiting space station should be completed.