The Shenzhou 16 mission has just started aboard the Chinese space station

China sent three new astronauts to its Tiangong space station on Tuesday, including a civilian for the first time. This mission therefore marks a turning point in the Chinese space program which, until now, only sent soldiers into space.

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A few hours after declaring its ambition to go to the Moon before 2030, China launched a new crew of three taikonauts bound for the Tiangong space station. The Shenzhou-16 mission crew took off aboard a CZ-2F launch vehicle at 9:31 a.m. local time (0131 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in the northwest Gobi Desert.

He is now on board the Chinese orbital complex for a period of approximately 6 months. His return to Earth is scheduled for November this year. They found their colleague from Shenzhou 15, whose mission is coming to an end. The return to dry land of this crew is expected in a few days.

Takeoff of the Chinese Shenzhou-16 to the space station. © Reuters

This crew is made up of veteran Jing Haipeng (56), for whom this is the fourth space flight and who will command the mission, Zhu Yangzhu (36) and Gui Haichao (36), professor and first Chinese civilian in the ‘space. The latter does not come from the armed forces as was always the case until now.

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A specialist in space science and engineering, he will be more particularly responsible for experiments in the station, the details of which are not known but which we know concern the traditional themes of experiments carried out in orbit: biology, medicine and human physiology. , life sciences, physics and materials science, fluid physics, space environment, space technology and technology demonstrations. Without forgetting scientific, educational and military activities.

A new Shenzhou

This mission also marks the first flight of the second-generation Shenzhou space vehicle. The latter, whose architecture and design is inspired by the Russian Soyuz, brings many improvements including fewer imported parts and more parts made in China. This vehicle consists of three modules: the orbital module, the reentry module and the service module. It measures less than 10 meters for a diameter of about 2.8 meters. With a volume of 14 cubic meters, the orbital module can accommodate up to three taikonauts to travel to and from the Tiangong space station. It is certified to remain in orbit, docked in Tiangong, for up to 183 days.