A pair of astronauts have entered China’s Tiangong 2 space station, beginning the country’s longest manned space mission

China is making strides in its own space program, sending a pair of astronauts into orbit to conduct experiments.┬áThe docking was successful and everything seems to go according to plan. According to the national news agency Xinhua, the pair extends their greetings to “all the people of the nation.”

Artist’s illustration of China’s Tiangong-2 space lab docked with a crewed Shenzhou spacecraft.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

In 2012, China’s astronauts boarded the Tiangong 1, in what was a historic achievement at the time. At the time, my colleague Tibi rightfully wrote that “China is now a space exploration power, joining the US and Russia.” That message was loud and clear, but historic achievements seem to come fast in China. Now, just four years later,┬áJing Haipeng and Chen Dong will be spending the next 30 days in space aboard Tiangong 1’s successor.

In what is set to be the longest Chinese space mission, the two astronauts will carry out a variety of experiments from cultivating plants such as rice and cress, to giving themselves ultrasounds to scan their bodies’ performance.

“Rice is the staple food of Chinese people so we hope to plant it in space in the future,” Zheng Huiqiong, an expert from the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology under the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences told media outlet the Global Times.

The costs of the Chinese space program really are astronomical, but then again – so are their ambitions. China is not a part of the International Space Station (ISS) program and instead, they’re rolling out their own program to rival the ISS. Among many other things, they are discussing manned missions to the Moon and Mars, a permanent base station on the Moon which could be used for mining resources, and the world’s largest radio telescopes.
The costs are also huge, but the Beijing government seems determined to invest everything that’s necessary into the program. All in all, China’s space future seems really bright.

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