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JIUQUAN, China — Three Chinese astronauts have begun making China’s new space station their home for the next three months, after their launch and arrival at the station Thursday marked further advances in the country’s ambitious space program.Their Shenzhou-12 craft connected with the station about six hours after taking off from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert.About three hours later, commander Nie Haisheng, followed by Liu Boming and space rookie Tang Hongbo, opened the hatches and floated into the Tianhe-1, the core living segment of the station. Pictures showed them busy at work unpacking equipment and at one point turning to the camera to greet and salute audiences back on Earth.“This represents the first time Chinese have entered their own space station,” state broadcaster CCTV said on its nightly news.China has now sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own. China’s leaders hope the mission will be a complete success as the ruling Communist Party prepares to celebrate its centennial next month.Although contact between the Chinese space program and NASA is restricted by U.S. law, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a statement Thursday expressing, “Congratulations to China on the successful launch of crew to their space station! I look forward to the scientific discoveries to come.”The mission is the third of 11 planned through next year to connect the Tianhe-1 to two laboratory modules and send up crews and supplies. The current crew will carry out experiments, test equipment and prepare for the future missions.A fresh crew and supplies will be sent in three months. Each crew will have three members, with the station’s capacity at six, when crews are being exchanged. Two of China’s past astronauts were women, and future crews on the station will include women.Uniformed military personnel and children waving flowers and flags and singing patriotic songs saw off the astronauts before they entered the Shenzhou-12 to be blasted into space atop a Long March-2F Y12 rocket at at 9:22 a.m (0122 GMT) Thursday Beijing time.The rocket dropped its boosters about two minutes into the flight followed by the cowling surrounding the crew’s craft. After about 10 minutes it separated from the rocket’s upper section, extended its solar panels and shortly afterward entered orbit.About a half-dozen adjustments helped line up the craft for docking with the Tianhe-1, or Heavenly Harmony, module at about 4 p.m. (0800 GMT).The travel time is down from the two days it took to reach China’s earlier experimental space stations, a result of a “great many breakthroughs and innovations,” the mission’s deputy chief designer, Gao Xu, told state broadcaster CCTV.“So the astronauts can have a good rest in space which should make them less tired,” Gao said.Other improvements include an increase in the number of automated and remote-controlled systems that should “significantly lessen the pressure on the astronauts,” Gao said.China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of U.S. objections to the Chinese programs secrecy and close military ties. However, China has been stepping up cooperation with Russia and a host of other countries, and its station may continue operating beyond the International Space Station, which is reaching the end of its functional life.Chinese space officials have also said foreigners may be part of future crews on the station after it is fully built next year.China landed a probe on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong, and earlier landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side and brought back the first lunar samples by any country’s space program since the 1970s.China and Russia this week also unveiled an ambitious plan for a joint International Lunar Research Station running through 2036. That could compete and possibly conflict with the multinational Artemis Accords, a blueprint for space cooperation that supports NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to launch an historic human mission to Mars.After the Tianhe-1 was launched in April, the rocket that carried it into space made an uncontrolled reentry to Earth. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.China dismissed criticism of the potential safety hazard at the time, and officials said the rocket used Thursday was of a different type and reentering components were expected to burn up before they could be a danger.
A Chinese spaceship carrying a three-person crew has docked with China’s new space station at the start of 3-month mission, marking a milestone in the country’s ambitious space programBy SAM McNEIL Associated PressJune 17, 2021, 9:28 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJIUQUAN, China — A Chinese spaceship carrying a three-person crew docked with China’s new space station at the start of 3-month mission Thursday, marking a milestone in the country’s ambitious space program..The Shenzhou-12 craft connected with the Tianhe space station module about six hours after takeoff from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert.The three astronauts are the first to take up residency in the main living module and will carry out experiments, test equipment, conduct maintenance and prepare the station for receiving two laboratory modules next year.The mission brings to 14 the number of astronauts China has launched into space since 2003, becoming only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.The astronauts were seen off by space officials, other uniformed military personnel and a crowd of children waving flowers and flags and singing patriotic songs.The rocket dropped its boosters about two minutes into the flight followed by the cowling surrounding Shenzhou-12 at the top of the rocket. After about 10 minutes it separated from the rocket’s upper section, extended its solar panels and shortly afterward entered orbit.About a half-dozen adjustments took place over the following six hours to line up the spaceship for docking with the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, module at about 4 p.m. (0800 GMT).The travel time is down from the two days it took to reach China’s earlier experimental space stations, a result of a “great many breakthroughs and innovations,” the mission’s deputy chief designer, Gao Xu, told state broadcaster CCTV.“So the astronauts can have a good rest in space which should make them less tired,” Gao said.Other improvements include an increase in the number of automated and remote-controlled systems that should “significantly lessen the pressure on the astronauts,” Gao said.Two astronauts on those past missions were women, and while this first station crew is all male, women are expected to be part of future station crews.The mission is the third of 11 planned through next year to add the additional sections to the station and send up crews and supplies. A fresh three-member crew and a cargo ship with supplies will be sent in three months.China is not a participant in the International Space Station, largely as a result of U.S. objections to the Chinese programs secrecy and close military ties. However, China has been stepping up cooperation with Russia and a host of other countries, and its station may continue operating beyond the International Space Station, which is reaching the end of its functional life.China landed a probe on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong, and earlier landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side and brought back the first lunar samples by any country’s space program since the 1970s.China and Russia this week also unveiled an ambitious plan for a joint International Lunar Research Station running through 2036. That could compete and possibly conflict with the multinational Artemis Accords, a blueprint for space cooperation that supports NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to launch an historic human mission to Mars.After the Tianhe was launched in April, the rocket that carried it into space made an uncontrolled reentry to Earth, though China dismissed criticism of the potential safety hazard. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.The rocket used Thursday is of a different type and the components that will reenter are expected to burn up long before they could be a danger, said Ji Qiming, assistant director of the China Manned Space Agency.
JIUQUAN, China — Adding a crew to China’s new orbiting space station is another major advance for the burgeoning space power.Here’s a look at key developments:WHAT’S THE MISSION’S PURPOSE?The three-member crew is due to stay for three months in the station’s main living module, named Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony. They will be carrying out science experiments and maintenance, space walks and preparing the facility to receive two additional modules next year.While China concedes it arrived late at the space station game, it says its facility is cutting-edge. It could also outlast the International Space Station, which is nearing the end of its functional lifespan.The launch Thursday also revives China’s crewed space program after a five-year hiatus. With Thursday’s launch, China has now sent 14 astronauts into space since it first achieved the feat in 2003, becoming the third country after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. to do so.WHY IS CHINA BUILDING THE STATION?As the Chinese economy was beginning to gather steam in the early 1990s, China formulated a plan for space exploration, which it has carried out at a steady, cautious cadence. While China has been barred from participation in the International Space Station, mainly over U.S. objections to the Chinese program’s secretive nature and close military connections, it’s likely the country would have built its own station anyway as it sought the status of a great space power.At a news conference Wednesday, China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming told reporters at the Jiuquan launch center that the construction and operation of the space station will raise China’s technologies and “accumulate experience for all the people.”The space program is part of an overall drive to put China on track for even more ambitious missions and provide opportunities for cooperation with Russia and other, mostly European, countries along with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.POLITICS AND SECURITYChina’s space program has been a massive source of national pride, embodying its rise from poverty to the world’s second-largest economy over the past four decades. That has helped shore up the power of the Communist Party, whose authoritarian rule and strict limits on political activity have been tolerated by most Chinese as long as the economy is growing.President and head of the party Xi Jinping has associated himself closely with that success, and Ji in his remarks cited Xi as setting the updated agenda for China’s rise to prominence in space. The first mission to the station also coincides with the celebration of the party centenary next month, an important political milestone.At the same time, China is modernizing its military at a rapid pace, raising concerns from neighbors, the U.S. and its NATO allies. While China espouses the peaceful development of space on the basis of equality and mutual respect, many recall that China in January 2007 sent a ballistic missile into space to destroy an inactive weather satellite, creating a debris field that continues to be a threat.WHO ARE THE ASTRONAUTS?Mission commander Nie Haisheng, 56, and fellow astronauts Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, are former People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilots with graduate degrees and strong scientific backgrounds. All Chinese astronauts so far have been recruited from the military, underscoring its close ties to the space program.For Nie, it is his third trip to space, and for Liu, his second following a mission in 2008 that included China’s first space walk. Tang, who was recruited as one of the second batch of candidates in 2010, is flying in space for the first time.Future missions to the station will include women, according to officials, with stays extended to as long as six months and as many as six astronauts on the station at a time during crew changeovers. With China stepping up international cooperation and exchanges, it’s only a matter of time before foreign astronauts join the Chinese colleagues on missions to the station, Ji told reporters Wednesday.WHAT ELSE IS CHINA DOING IN SPACE?Along with its crewed space program, China has been moving boldly into exploration of the solar system with robotic space ships. It landed a probe on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong, which is conducting a range of surveys, looking particularly for frozen water that could provide clues as to whether the red plant once supported life.Earlier, China landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side, joining the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover that was part of an earlier lunar exploration mission. China also brought back the first lunar samples by any country’s space program since the 1970s and officials say they want to send Chinese astronauts to the moon and eventually build a research base there.
JIUQUAN, China — The three members of the first crew to be sent to China’s space station say they’re eager to get to work making their home for the next three months habitable, setting up testing and experiments and preparing for a series of spacewalks.The three met with reporters Wednesday from inside a germ-free glassed-in room, hours before they were to blast off on Thursday morning.“First of all, we need to arrange our home in the core module, then get started on a whole range of diagnostic tests on crucial technology and experiments,” said mission commander Nie Haisheng, 56, the most senior of the three who is making his third trip to space.“The task is very arduous and there are many challenges. My colleagues and I will cooperate closely, operate carefully and overcome all difficulties,” Nie said.Unsurprisingly, all said they had complete confidence in the mission, which carries special political meaning for the ruling Communist Party as it prepares to celebrate its centenary next month.Liu Boming, 54, whose one previous flight in 2008 included China’s first spacewalk, said there would be multiple such activities during the mission as the astronauts carry out their science experiments, conduct maintenance and prepare the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, core module to receive two other modules to be sent up next year.Tang Hongbo, 45, who is making his first flight since being selected among the second batch of astronauts in 2010, said he had been training virtually nonstop for years. “There is pressure,” Tang said. “But where there is pressure there is motivation and … I have confidence in myself and have confidence in our team.”Thursday’s launch begins the first crewed space mission in five years for an increasingly ambitious space program. China has sent 11 astronauts into space since becoming the third country to so so on its own in 2003, and has sent orbiters and rovers to the moon and Mars.The astronauts will be traveling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket set to blast off at 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China.While the first Tianhe crew are all men, women will be part of future crews, officials have said.Beijing doesn’t participate in the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns over the Chinese space program’s secrecy and its military connections. Despite that, foreign science missions and possibly foreign astronauts are expected to visit the Chinese station in the future, China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming told reporters at Jiuquan.“Outer space is the common wealth of people all over the world, and exploring the universe is the shared cause of all mankind,” Ji said.“We are willing to carry out international cooperation and exchanges with all countries and regions worldwide that are committed to the peaceful use of outer space,” Ji said, adding that existing cooperation is being expanded with countries including Russia, Italy and Germany along with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.“I believe that in the near future, when the Chinese space station is complete, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts taking on joint missions to the Chinese space station,” Ji said.Ji conceded the construction of the Chinese station had come “relatively late,” but said that was also an advantage because it allowed China to use the latest technologies and concepts, particularly in the areas of reliability and safety.“Exploring the vast universe, developing space activities, building a powerful space nation is our unremitting space dream,” Ji said.“The construction and operation of China’s space station will raise our technologies and accumulate experience for all the people. It is a positive contribution by China for human exploration of the universe, peaceful utilization of outer space and push forward the building of a community of shared future for mankind,” he said.The mission is the third of 11 planned through next year to add the additional sections to the station and send up crews and supplies. The main living section of the station was launched in April while the other two modules will be primarily for scientific work.The mission builds on experience China gained from earlier operating two experimental space stations. It also landed a probe on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong, and earlier landed a probe and rover on the moon and brought back the first lunar samples by any country’s space program since the 1970s.Once completed, the station will allow for stays of up to six months, similar to the much larger International Space Station.All astronauts will have their own living area, and a stationary bike and other exercise equipment will allow them to counter some of the effects of weightlessness. They’ll also be able to bring personal items to remind them of home and stave off boredom while not working, Nie said.The Chinese station reportedly is intended to be used for 15 years and may outlast ISS, which is nearing the end of its functional lifespan.The launch of Tianhe was considered a success although China was criticized for allowing the uncontrolled reentry to Earth of part of the rocket that carried it into space. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.The rocket blasting off Thursday is of a different type, and Ji dismissed concerns about it or the models used for cargo missions posing a threat when they reenter. China published their trajectories and they are expected to burn up long before they could be a danger, he said.———This story has been corrected to show China conducted its first spacewalk in 2008, not 2011.
LHASA, China — A brisk wind ruffles yellow prayer flags as dozens of Tibetans, some on crutches, circle a shrine in a time-honored Buddhist ritual. Across the street, a red banner spells out a new belief system, one being enforced with increasing fervor, of China’s ruling Communist Party.“Xi Jinping’s new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for the whole party and all nationalities to fight for the great rejuvenation of China,” the sign proclaims in Tibetan and Chinese script, referring to China’s leader, who has sought to put his imprint on virtually every aspect of life across the vast county.Lately, that has increasingly encompassed religion, both in central China and on its fringes, such as Tibet. The party is pressing a program to Sinicize Tibetan life through programs to separate Tibetans from their language, culture, and especially, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s traditional spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959.In the sun-drenched courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, the head monk Lhakpa said the Dalai Lama is not its spiritual leader. Asked who is, he said: “Xi Jinping.”The Associated Press joined a rare and strictly controlled media tour to Tibet highlighting what the government describes as the social stability and economic development of the region after 70 years of Communist Party rule. Stops included monasteries, temples, schools, poverty alleviation projects, and tourist sites.That appears to reflect the party’s confidence that it is prevailing in the global battle of public opinion over Tibet. As a counterweight, Tibet rights groups continue to report frequent detentions, economic marginalization, a suffocating security presence and heavy pressure to assimilate with China’s Han majority while pledging loyalty to the Communist Party.Tibetans in exile say they were effectively independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to wipe out Tibet’s Buddhist culture and language while exploiting its natural resources and encouraging Chinese to move there from other parts of the country. Beijing says Tibet has long been a part of China and that the communists liberated hundreds of thousands of illiterate serfs when they overthrew the ruling theocracy in 1951.Security has been tightened significantly since widespread anti-government protests in 2008, shortly before the Beijing Summer Olympics, accompanied by redoubled efforts at economic development and the declining influence of Buddhism. In the model village of Baji east of Lhasa, the capital, residents dressed in traditional garments told foreign journalists how poverty alleviation campaigns had changed their lives.“Time has changed, so people’s demands have changed. People needed religious beliefs as their spiritual sustenance in old times, but now we don’t,” said Tsering Yudron, 25, an accountant.The government points to the billions of dollars it has invested in roads, airports, railways, schools and hospitals, saying development has doubled life expectancy, brought electrification, jobs, and opportunities to a region that long lagged behind.“Tibet has eradicated extreme poverty,” reads a 2019 government report on Tibet. “People now lead better lives and live in contentment. A brand new socialist Tibet has taken shape.”The impact on traditional culture has been stark. Like Christians and Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists have increasingly been pressured to “Sinicize” their religions under a program put forth by Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong. While repression has been less harsh than in nearby Xinjiang, which has seen mass incarcerations of Turkic Muslims, residents are under extreme pressure to monitor each other and infractions can bring long prison sentences, rights groups say.The party has evolved a system to try to control Tibetans through their faith, said Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Especially since the 2008 protests, the government has sought to “get the love of the Communist Party into those Tibetan minds when they’re children,” he said. From campuses to homes, portraits of Xi now hang from the walls of homes and temples as once did images of the Dalai Lama.“Tibetan Buddhism should be guided in adapting to the socialist society and should be developed in the Chinese context,” Xi said last year during a meeting focused on Tibet.China has increasingly vilified the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, and has in recent years relinquished his political role as head of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile. Seeking to quell protests that pop up every decade or so, the party banned all images of the Dalai Lama in 1996, excised the exiled leader from books and broadcasts, and installed cadres in most villages, monasteries and nunneries.While the Dalai Lama says he seeks only meaningful autonomy under Chinese rule, Beijing accuses him of supporting terrorism and seeking to split Tibet from China, and has cut off all contacts with his representatives.With the Dalai Lama soon to turn 86, attention has increasingly turned to the question of his succession, or reincarnation as traditional belief holds. The successor is traditionally identified by senior monastic disciples, based on spiritual signs and visions. But China says that only Beijing can appoint the next Dalai Lama in a ceremony using a golden urn to pick from among candidates approved by the central government.“Reincarnation of living Buddhas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson in 2019.At the government-built Tibetan Buddhist College outside of Lhasa, more than 900 students study religion along with politics, law, computer science, Chinese and Tibetan. Among them are eight monks aged 7 to 11, recognized as reincarnations or “living Buddhas.”Chalk art celebrating 70 years of China’s military takeover of Tibet adorns the wall next to a portrait of Xi in a class taught in Tibetan.“We must adhere to the leadership of the party over the religious affairs and the Sinicization of religions. We must continue to accommodate the religions to the socialist system of China,” said Zhang Liangtian, the college’s top communist party official.China has built a network of schools and institutions across Tibet to try and manufacture a “domesticated version” of Tibetan Buddhism to counter the leadership in exile, said Dibyesh Anand, the head of University of Westminster’s international relations department in London.The goal, Anand says, is to change the very core of Tibetan Buddhism by generating confusion about the Dalai Lama and his leadership, and eventually to dismantle his legacy as a “paramount national leader.”China has meanwhile sought to elevate other spiritual figures, particularly Tibetan Buddhism’s second ranking figure, the Panchen Lama. A boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen disappeared soon after and Beijing produced its own successor, whose legitimacy is highly contested.Zhang, the Tibet Buddhism College’s top party official, said that while the Dalai Lama had “betrayed his country,” the Panchen Lamas “love the country and the religion.”Barnett said the close management of schools is a campaign to change the minds of future generations of Tibetans to “push for removing the possibility that people will listen to the Dalai Lama if they even get to hear what he says.” Still, China believes it needs a religious leader to act as their proxy in order to control Tibet, Barnett said.“It’s all about a long-term historical project to control the next Dalai Lama,” he said, “even if you can’t control this one.”