, a new milestone in the country’s rapidly advancing space program.
The three-person team, all under the age of 35, launched into space on Tuesday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert. They are tasked with conducting dozens of scientific experiments as the first crew aboard the Tiangong space station.
The head of the mission, the 35-year-old commander Zhang Xiaoguang, said that he felt “responsible, proud and excited” about the launch.
The mission is the fourth in what will be an 11-mission campaign to build and test the station, which will eventually be the largest, most advanced space station in orbit. The station is expected to be completed and fully operational by 2022.
The mission also marks a significant step forward in China’s space exploration efforts, as the country sets its sights on landing its first astronauts on the Moon by 2030.
While China is still years away from a manned mission to the Moon, the country’s progress in space exploration has been impressive. In the past two decades, China has launched a fleet of orbiting satellites, sent probes to the Moon and Mars, and restored the first images of the dark side of the moon.
The Tiangong space station mission is expected to mark another significant step forward in the country’s space exploration efforts.
China’s advancing space program has sparked concerns among rival space powers, including the U.S. and Russia. But in a speech to the National People’s Congress last month, President Xi Jinping vowed to keep China’s space exploration peaceful, advocating for international cooperation and a “new type of security that transcends borders.”