In yet another giant leap forward for China’s space program, two Chinese astronauts were launched into the atmosphere earlier this morning aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft. They will now make their way to a rendezvous point with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2.
If you’ll recall, the Tiangong-2 was launched last month to much fanfare. It replaced the Tiangong-1 (which is now hurtling back toward Earth like an out of control fireball) as China’s temporary platform for research outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
During their 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2, the astronauts will conduct experiments in a variety of different fields, including: aerospace medicine, space sciences, on-orbit maintenance, and space station technologies. Perhaps more importantly, they will ensure that they can survive for a month aboard the orbiting space lab.
The two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, are set to dock with the Tiangong-2 within the next two days. By Wednesday, the process is expected to be complete. After their 30 days are up, the Shenzhou-11 will detach and fall back to Earth with the astronauts aboard.
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, fulfilling China’s first “space dream” and overcoming a significant obstacle for the program.
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.
Watch the launch below:
[Images via Xinhua]