One small step for man, one giant leap for China.
At exactly 10:04 p.m. tonight, the Tiangong-2 Space Laboratory is set to launch into the great unknown atop a Long March 2F launch vehicle from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in western Gansu Province.
The hard-working space program engineers have received praise on Weibo for continuing to work despite the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday.
Tiangong-2 is visiting the cosmos to follow in the footsteps of Tiangong-1, becoming China’s second temporary space lab providing an experimental research platform for the Chinese Space Program outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Capable of supporting two crew members for 30 days, the Tiangong-2 is scheduled to receive taikonauts (that’s the improper term for Chinese astronauts!) arriving aboard the Shenzhou 11 manned mission in October. The astronauts will conduct experiments in a variety of different fields including: aerospace medicine, space sciences, on-orbit maintenance, and space station technologies.
A resupply mission is then scheduled for April next year, delivering fuel and supplies, possibly for future manned missions.
The Tiangong-2 represents the future of the Chinese space program. It will provide vital experimental data for future missions, leading up to the eventual launch of China’s first permanent space station (Tiangong-3), akin to the International Space Station, which is supposed to take place around 2020.
And is much needed. Particularly because, due to international politics that not even Matt Damon can fix, Chinese astronauts are not allowed aboard the ISS, and Chinese researchers are not allowed at Cape Canaveral.
Along with the Tiangongs, China has ambitious plans for space, including a manned lunar landing by 2025 (though it seems the moon has beat them to it), a hack-proof quantum communications satellite, and a massive alien hunt.
By Christopher Shi
[Images via Weibo / Xinhua]