China has successfully launched three astronauts, including its first civilian scientist, to its fully operational space station as part of a crew rotation. The Shenzhou-16 spacecraft, carrying commander Jing Haipeng, engineer Zhu Yangzhu, and Beihang University professor Gui Haichao, lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert. The mission aims to conduct large-scale, in-orbit experiments, studying novel quantum phenomena, high-precision space time-frequency systems, and the verification of general relativity.
The Chinese space station, consisting of three modules, was completed at the end of last year after a series of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions. China has announced plans to expand its permanently inhabited space outpost, with the next module set to dock with the current T-shaped space station to form a cross-shaped structure. Under President Xi Jinping, China’s “space dream” has accelerated, with plans to build a moon base and achieve a manned lunar landing by 2030.
The Tiangong space station, meaning “heavenly palace,” is equipped with state-of-the-art scientific equipment, including the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system. It is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for at least a decade, with rotating teams of three astronauts constantly crewing the station. Despite being excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, China’s space agency is actively seeking international cooperation, welcoming participation from foreign astronauts in future space station flight missions. Beijing plans to send two manned space missions to the space station annually, with the Shenzhou-17 mission scheduled for October.
In other space news, Chinese researchers have found evidence, photos and geological data of an ancient ocean on Mars. They observed what appeared to be remnants of a major tsunami in a distant past, caused by a meteorite impact. Such tsunamis challenge the established theory that oceans never existed on Mars, and suggest further exploration to find the ecological environment necessary for life.
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