Shenzhou XII: China’s first manned spaceflight news since 2016
Shenzhou 12, which means “Shenzhou”, will be the third of the 11 tasks required to complete the Chinese space station by 2022.
In the next few days, a Chinese spacecraft will be launched from the Gobi Desert on a Long March rocket, transporting three men to the orbital capsule for three months. This is the first time that China has sent humans into space in the past five years.
Shenzhou 12, which means “Shenzhou”, will be the third of the 11 missions required to complete the Chinese space station by 2022. Four of these will be manned missions, which may send as many as 12 Chinese astronauts into space-more than the 11 men and women sent by China since 2003.
This spacecraft will also bring the hopes of some people in the most populous country on earth into space.
“The motherland is strong,” a netizen wrote on Chinese social media, sending blessings to the Shenzhou 12 crew. “This launch is a gift dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.”
The international reputation of Chinese astronauts is relatively low. The US law prohibiting NASA from having any connection with China means that its astronauts have not been to the International Space Station, which has a history of more than 20 years. The station is visited by more than 240 men and women of different nationalities.
China’s goal is to become a major space power by 2030. Two years after the first spacecraft landed on the back of the moon, China will become the second country to send a Mars rover to Mars in May this year.
It also plans to send astronauts to the moon.
This time, man
The crew of Shenzhou 12 will live on the Tianhe Tianhe, a cylinder 16.6 meters (55 feet) long and 4.2 meters (14 feet) in diameter.
The planned three-month stay will break the 30-day record set by Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng when they arrived at the prototype station in 2016 on their mission—the last manned flight in China.
Yang Liwei, director of China’s Manned Space Engineering Office and China’s first astronaut, told the official news agency Global Times last month that three men from China’s first and second astronauts will perform the mission.
Chinese space bloggers speculate that the astronauts will be 56-year-old Nie Haisheng (56-year-old will become China’s oldest astronaut in space), 55-year-old Deng Qingming and 40-year-old Ye Guangfu.
Authorities usually do not announce mission crews near or after the launch. China Manned Space did not respond to Reuters’ faxed request for comment.
The oldest person in space is John Glenn, who flew on a space shuttle in 1998 at the age of 77—he was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, a U.S. senator, and presidential candidate.
Yang told the Global Times that although the Shenzhou 12 mission did not arrange for women to participate, they are expected to participate in every subsequent mission.
Following the first batch of 14 men in the mid-1990s, two women, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, were selected into the second batch of China in 2011. Liu was the first woman in China to enter space in 2012, and Wang was the youngest, 33 years old in 2013.
China began construction of the space station in April, and Tianhe launched the first and largest of its three modules. This year its goal is to send a robotic cargo to replenish the spacecraft and three other astronauts, this time staying for six months.