Three Chinese astronauts including the first woman entered the country’s under construction space station on Saturday, hours after the Shenzhou-13 crewed mission blasted off into space on the Long March-2F rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu province in northwest China.

Wang Yaping, 41, is part of a three member team which entered Tiangong  or Heavenly Palace space station, the first woman astronaut to do so. She is expected to become the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk.

The three will stay inside the space station for six months  the longest-ever mission involving crew in China’s rapidly developing space programme.

After Shenzhou-13 successfully completed a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the space station complex, which is composed of the core module Tianhe and the cargo crafts Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3, the Shenzhou-13 crew entered the orbital capsule from the return capsule of the spaceship.

The  China Manned Space Agency  said in a statement on Saturday. “After a series of preparations, Zhai Zhigang opened the hatch of the Tianhe core module. At 9:58 a.m.  Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu entered the core module one by one,”.

The trio is the second batch of crew in China’s space station.In September, three other Chinese astronauts successfully completed a three-month stay on board the future station.

The assignments for the new crew include operating mechanical arms, performing extravehicular activities, and having module transfer tests.

“They will also continue to verify key technologies concerning astronauts’ long-term stay in orbit, as well as recycle and life support,” the CMSA said.

China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe – the first and largest of the station’s three modules.

On May 30, a cargo spacecraft carrying supplies including food and equipment docked with China’s first space station’s key module Tianhe as part of the preparation for the station to host three astronauts this month.

The unmanned Tianzhou-2, or “Heavenly Vessel” in Chinese, docked with Tianhe .

Since 2003, China has launched six crewed missions and sent 11 astronauts into space, including Zhai Zhigang, who carried out China’s first spacewalk ever on the 2008 Shenzhou mission.

In recent months, China has returned rock and soil samples to earth from the surface of the moon and landed a six-wheeled robot on Mars; it also landed a craft on the far side of the moon in 2019.


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