BEIJING — China launched a new three-person crew for its orbiting space station on Tuesday, with an eye to putting astronauts on the moon before the end of the decade.
The Shenzhou 16 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China atop a Long March 2-F rocket just after 9:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) Tuesday.
The crew, including China’s first civilian astronaut, will overlap briefly with three now aboard the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after completing their six-month mission.
An additional module to the station was installed in November. On Monday, officials from the space program said that they plan to extend it and launch a crewed moon mission before 2030.
China constructed its own station when it was denied access to the International Space Station. This is largely because of U.S. concern over China’s space program’s close ties with People’s Liberation Army (the military arm of the ruling Communist Party).
China’s first manned space mission in 2003 made it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. to put a person into space under its own resources.
On this latest space mission, Gui Haichao will be joining Maj. Gen. Jing Haipeng who is flying to space for the fourth time, as well as spacecraft engineer Zhu Yangzhu.
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