China to launch manned spacecraft on country’s longest-ever space mission

Chinese staff members walk in front of the Long March 2F carrier rocket carrying the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft ahead of its launch at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in Gansu province, China, October 16, 2016. China will launch Shenzhou-11 spacecraft carrying two crew members into orbit to dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab on a 30-day mission on 17 October 2016. Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG/EPA

JIUQUAN, China, Oct. 16 (UPI) — China plans to launch its sixth manned spacecraft Monday morning.

Two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, will be transported into space aboard Shenzhou-11 at 7:30 a.m. Beijing time, said Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office, at a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The spacecraft will dock with orbiting space module Tiangong-2 in two days, and the astronauts will remain aboard for 30 days, she said. Then it will return to Earth within one day.

Tiangong-2 was launched on Sept. 15 and remains “in a good condition,” Wu said.

Shenzhou-11 mission will be the only manned mission to the new orbital laboratory, according to Zhu Zongpeng, chief designer of Tiangong-2.

China last sent astronauts into orbit in 2013.

Jing, 50, who was named commander of the two-member crew, was aboard Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008 and Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012. It will be Chen’s first space flight.

“Shenzhou-11 is a new beginning. It marks the imminent end of the exploratory stage of China’s manned space program,” said Zhang Yulin, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program.

Shenzhou is based on the Russian Soyuz-TM spacecraft and can carry up to three astronauts, according to NASA


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