BEIJING (AP) – China yesterday launched the third and final module to complete its permanent space station and realise a more than decade-long effort to maintain a constant crewed presence in orbit.
Mengtian was blasted into space yesterday afternoon from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan.
A large crowd of amateur photographers, space enthusiasts and others watched the lift-off from an adjoining beach.
Many waved Chinese flags and wore T-shirts emblazoned with the characters for China, reflecting the deep national pride invested in the space programme and the technological progress it represents.
“The space programme is a symbol of a major country and a boost to the modernisation of China’s national defence,” said Professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law Ni Lexiong.
Mengtian, or ‘Celestial Dream’, joins Wentian as the second laboratory module for the station, collectively known as Tiangong, or ‘Celestial Palace’. Both are connected to the Tianhe core module where the crew lives and works.
Like its predecessors, Mengtian was launched aboard a Long March-5B Y4 carrier rocket, a member of China’s most powerful family of launch vehicles.
Mengtian was due to spend 13 hours in flight before reaching Tiangong, which is populated by a crew of two male and one female astronauts, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe and Liu Yang arrived in early June for a six-month stay on board, during which they will complete the station’s assembly, conduct space walks and carry out additional experiments.