China’s Shenzhou-14 mission successfully docked at the country’s Tiangong space station on Sunday. According to CNN, the spacecraft’s three-member crew arrived at the Tianhe “Harmony of the Heavens” crew module at 5:42 p.m. local time after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert earlier in the day. The arrival marks the beginning of a six-month stay at the station for the mission’s astronauts, who will see China make significant progress toward completing Tiangong.
The country hopes to complete construction of the station by the end of the year. Next month, it will launch the first of two lab modules that will expand Tiangong’s capabilities, with the last to follow in October. The modules allow Chinese astronauts to conduct microgravity and life sciences research. After the country completed its first-ever tandem spacewalk last year, the crew of the Shenzhou-14 will conduct multiple EVAs to prepare the station for expansion. Among the three astronauts is Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman to reach space nearly a decade ago during the country’s Shenzhou-9 mission.
Once completed, the entire T-shaped structure will be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station, with long-term accommodation for three astronauts. According to Reuters, China is exploring the possibility of allowing commercial space flights to visit Tiangong. It has also invited international space agencies to visit the station. The successful launch of the Shenzhou-14 caps a busy week in spaceflight as NASA prepares to retest the next-generation SLS rocket and Blue Origin successfully completes its fifth manned flight on Saturday.
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