China successfully sent its youngest team ever to its orbiting space station from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Thursday. The country has set a goal of sending astronauts to the moon by 2030.
At 11:14 a.m. (0314 GMT), the Shenzhou 17 spacecraft launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located on the border of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China, using a Long March 2-F rocket.
The China Manned Space Agency reported that the average age of the three-person crew is the youngest ever for a space station construction mission. State broadcaster CCTV previously stated that their average age is 38, as reported by state media China Daily.
Beijing is pursuing plans to place astronauts on the moon before the end of the decade amid a rivalry with the U.S. for reaching new milestones in outer space. This reflects the competition for influence between the world’s two largest economies in the technology, military and diplomatic fields.
Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin will take the place of a crew that has been residing on the space station for six months. Tang is an experienced astronaut who recently completed a three-month mission in 2021.
The agency stated that the new team will perform tests in space medicine, space technology, and other fields while on their mission. They will also assist with installing and upkeeping equipment both inside and outside of the station.
The agency revealed on Wednesday their intention to launch a new telescope to explore the depths of the universe. According to CCTV, the telescope will allow for extensive sky surveys and mapping, but no specific timeline for its installation was provided.
For centuries, China has studied the movements of stars and planets. In recent years, it has made significant advancements in space exploration and scientific research, solidifying its position as a leader in these fields.
After being denied participation in the International Space Station, it constructed its own space station, primarily due to American apprehensions regarding the People’s Liberation Army’s influence over the program, which is the military division of the governing Communist Party.
In 2003, China successfully launched its first manned space mission, becoming the third nation to independently send an astronaut into space, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.
For the time being, it is believed that the United States has an advantage over China in terms of spending, supply chains, and capabilities. However, China has made progress in certain areas, such as bringing back lunar samples for the first time in decades and successfully landing a rover on the relatively unexplored far side of the moon.
In the meantime, the United States has set a goal to return astronauts to the moon by the end of 2025. This is part of a renewed dedication to sending manned missions, with the assistance of private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Aside from their missions to the moon, both nations have also successfully deployed rovers onto Mars. China has announced intentions to trail the U.S. in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid.
This report was contributed to by journalist Kanis Leung in Hong Kong and Caroline Chen, a video producer at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for Associated Press.