Skip to main content

China’s first crewed space mission in five years set for launch Thursday

China will send three astronauts into orbit on Thursday in what will be the country’s first crewed mission in five years.

Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo will head to an under-construction space station on the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, hitching a ride atop a Long March-2F rocket, state-affiliated Global Times reported.

A Long March-2F rocket.
The Long March-2F rocket will launch three Chinese astronauts to a new space station in the country’s first crewed launch in five years. STR/Getty Images

The launch is expected to take place at 9:22 a.m. local time (9:22 p.m ET on Wednesday) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center about 900 miles west of Beijing.

The astronauts will spend three months aboard the Tianhe module of the space station, the core module that reached Earth orbit in April. During their stay, the crew, two of whom have already been to space, will prepare for the arrival of additional modules.

China is aiming to complete construction of the new space station by the end of next year and will use it to conduct science experiments in microgravity conditions — similar to how NASA uses the International Space Station (ISS). China’s station is orbiting Earth around 20 miles below the ISS, which is usually located about 250 miles above Earth.

China’s space station is likely to remain operational for at least 10 years, so it could outlast the aging ISS, which some have suggested may be taken out of service around 2030.

This week’s crewed voyage is the latest in a string of high-profile space missions by China as the country seeks to become a dominant player in the field of space exploration.

Recent launches overseen by the China National Space Administration have included a mission to Mars that recently put its first-ever rover onto the Martian surface. It also successfully completed a lunar mission toward the end of 2020 that brought moon rocks to Earth.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA gives Starliner’s first crewed launch the go-ahead
NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams prepare for their mission in the company’s Starliner spacecraft simulator at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA has completed its readiness review of the Boeing Starliner, a new spacecraft designed to carry astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. With the first crewed test flight of the Starliner less than two weeks away, NASA has given the go-ahead for the launch. If successful, the Starliner will join the SpaceX Crew Dragon as the first American spacecraft to carry astronauts since the Space Shuttle.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today, Thursday April 25, in time to prepare for the first launch of the Starliner in around a week-and-a-half. Arriving in a T-38 jet, Wilmore and Williams said they were excited to be in Florida and for the launch date to arrive.

Read more
China’s space station was hit by space junk
China's Tiangong space station shown from above.

China's Tiangong space station shown from above. CMSA

Crew members aboard China’s space station have successfully completed repairs after a debris strike caused a partial power failure at the facility, officials of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) revealed at a press conference on Wednesday.

Read more
Junk from the ISS fell on a house in the U.S., NASA confirms
The International Space Station.

A regular stanchion (left) and the one recovered from the NASA flight support equipment used to mount International Space Station batteries on a cargo pallet. The recovered stanchion survived reentry through Earth’s atmosphere on March 8, 2024, and impacted a home in Florida. NASA

When Alejandro Otero’s son called him on March 8 to say that something had crashed through the roof of their home, he initially thought it might have been a meteorite.

Read more