For the next three months, three Chinese astronauts will live on a cylinder-shaped module measuring 16.6 metres by 4.2 metres (54 feet by 13.7 feet) while carrying out further construction work for China’s orbiting space station.
It’s the first time in five years China has sent humans into space, reports NBC News. :
Shenzhou-12, or “Divine Vessel,” is one of 11 planned missions to complete construction of China’s 70-ton Tiangong or Harmony of the Heavens space station that is set to be up and running by next year… China has long been frozen out of the International Space Station, or ISS, a project launched 20 years ago that has served as the ultimate expression of post-Cold War reconciliation between Russia and the United States. American concerns over the Chinese space program’s secrecy and connections to its military were largely responsible for that. But the aging ISS that hosted astronauts from the U.S., Russia and a number of other countries is set to be decommissioned after 2024. As broader U.S.-Russia relations deteriorate, Moscow has hinted that it may withdraw from ISS cooperation in 2025, meaning China could be the only country with a functioning space station.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, also signed an agreement in March with the Chinese National Space Administration to build a base on or around the Moon, which they will call the International Scientific Lunar Station.
“All the firsts that the U.S. and the USSR did in the Cold War, China is just ticking them off,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Now they’re at the point where they’re starting to think, ‘OK, we’re not just copying the West anymore, we’re going to start doing our own thing’. And that’s going to be very interesting to watch.”