China Launches Three Astronauts to Chinese Space Station for Extended Mission

In a significant milestone for its space program, China successfully launched three astronauts to its Tiangong space station on April 25, marking the commencement of a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory. The spacecraft Shenzhou-18, aptly named “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre atop a Long March-2F rocket, carrying the crew on a journey to the permanently inhabited space station.

Leading the mission is veteran astronaut Ye Guangfu, who returns to Tiangong after his previous visit in October 2021. Joining him are first-time space travelers Lieutenant-Colonel Li Cong and Lieutenant Li Guangsu, both former air force pilots and part of China’s latest cohort of astronauts.

Tiangong, translated as “Heavenly Palace,” has been operational since late 2022 and can accommodate up to three astronauts for extended periods at an orbital altitude of 450 kilometers. Over the next six months, the crew will conduct spacewalks and scientific experiments, leveraging the station’s low-gravity environment for research.

The launch of Shenzhou-18 marks China’s seventh crewed mission to Tiangong since its construction began in 2021. With a planned operational lifespan of at least 15 years, Tiangong stands as a testament to China’s growing prowess in space exploration.

For China, Tiangong represents a symbol of national achievement, particularly in light of its exclusion from the International Space Station (ISS) due to US legislative restrictions. Despite this, China has forged ahead with its independent space program, culminating in milestone missions like Shenzhou-18.

This mission also underscores China’s commitment to space exploration, as it marks the 13th crewed mission since Major-General Yang Liwei’s historic solo spaceflight in 2003. As China continues to expand its presence in space, the success of Shenzhou-18 heralds a new chapter in the nation’s journey toward the stars.