The first astronauts arrived at China’s new space station on Thursday (Jun 17) in the country’s longest crewed mission to date, a landmark step in establishing Beijing as a major space power.
The trio blasted off on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China’s Gobi desert, and their craft docked around seven hours later at the Tiangong station, where they will spend the next three months.
State broadcaster CCTV showed a live feed from inside the spacecraft during the journey, with the three astronauts lifting their helmet visors after it reached orbit as one smiled and waved at the camera.
The mission’s commander is Nie Haisheng, a decorated air force pilot in the People’s Liberation Army who has already participated in two space missions. The two other members are also from the military.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson congratulated China on the launch, saying in a statement: “I look forward to the scientific discoveries to come.”