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Chinese crew blasts off to space outpost

by SAM McNEIL THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 17, 2021 at 3:58 a.m.
“The task is very arduous, and there are many challenges,” said Chinese mission commander Nie Haisheng, flanked by Tang Hongbo (left) and Liu Boming on Wednesday ahead of today’s launch. (AP/Ng Han Guan)

JIUQUAN, China -- China today launched the first three-man crew to its new space station in its first crewed mission in five years.

The astronauts are traveling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket that blasted off shortly after the target time of 9:22 a.m. local time from the Jiuquan center in northwestern China.

The three members of the crew met with reporters Wednesday and said they're eager to get to work making their home for the next three months habitable, setting up testing and experiments and preparing for a series of spacewalks.

"First of all, we need to arrange our home in the core module, then get started on a whole range of diagnostic tests on crucial technology and experiments," said mission commander Nie Haisheng, 56, before his third trip to space.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx9ONb1_Saw]

"The task is very arduous and there are many challenges. My colleagues and I will cooperate closely, operate carefully and overcome all difficulties," Nie said.

All said they had complete confidence in the mission, which carries special political meaning for the ruling Communist Party as it prepares to celebrate its centenary next month.

Liu Boming, 54, whose one previous flight in 2008 included China's first spacewalk, said there would be many such activities during the mission as the astronauts carry out their science experiments, conduct maintenance and prepare the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, core module to receive two other modules to be sent up next year.

Tang Hongbo, 45, who is making his first flight since being selected among the second batch of astronauts in 2010, said he had been training virtually nonstop for years. "There is pressure," Tang said. "But where there is pressure there is motivation and ... I have confidence in myself and have confidence in our team."

Today's launch began the first crewed space mission in five years for an increasingly ambitious space program. China has sent 12 astronauts into space since becoming the third country to do so on its own in 2003, and has sent orbiters and rovers to the moon and Mars.

While the first Tianhe crew are all men, women will be part of future crews, officials have said.

Beijing doesn't participate in the International Space Station, largely because of U.S. concerns over the Chinese space program's secrecy and its military connections. Despite that, foreign science missions and possibly foreign astronauts are expected to visit the Chinese station in the future, Ji Qiming of the China Manned Space Agency told reporters at Jiuquan.

"Outer space is the common wealth of people all over the world, and exploring the universe is the shared cause of all mankind," Ji said.

"I believe that in the near future, when the Chinese space station is complete, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts taking on joint missions to the Chinese space station," Ji said.

Ji conceded the construction of the Chinese station had come "relatively late," but said that was also an advantage because it allowed China to use the latest technologies and concepts, particularly in the areas of reliability and safety.

The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft sits covered on a launch pad near Chinese characters reading "Launch" at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, China on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft sits covered on a launch pad near Chinese characters reading "Launch" at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, China on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming speaks at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming speaks at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, right, salutes as he and fellow astronaut Tang Hongbo attend a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, right, salutes as he and fellow astronaut Tang Hongbo attend a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronaut Nie Haisheng speaks during a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronaut Nie Haisheng speaks during a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A worker holds an umbrella near the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft covered on the launch pad with the Chinese characters reading "China Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center" near Jiuquan on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.  (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A worker holds an umbrella near the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft covered on the launch pad with the Chinese characters reading "China Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center" near Jiuquan on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming wave at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming wave at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft sits covered on a launch pad near Chinese characters for "China" at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, China on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft sits covered on a launch pad near Chinese characters for "China" at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, China on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming attend a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming attend a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center ahead of the Shenzhou-12 launch from Jiuquan in northwestern China, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship, who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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