The three Shenzhou-14 astronauts — commander Chen Dong and Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe — are settling in for a lengthy stay aboard China’s Tiangong space station.
The trio arrived at Tianhe, Tiangong’s core module, on Sunday morning (June 5), just hours after lifting off. Since then, the astronauts have been inspecting and setting up the crew environment, making sure the drinking water, oxygen production, sleeping conditions, sanitation and other systems are working well, said Wang Saijin, deputy chief designer of the China human space program’s astronaut system at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center.
“These are all very important status settings,” Wang told China Central Television (opens in new tab) (CCTV+). “They also have to organize and move supplies, including arranging those from the Tianzhou-3 and Tianzhou-4 cargo spaceships.”
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Such work aside, Tianhe was quite ready to host the six-month-long Shenzhou 14 mission, Chinese space officials said.
“The space station complex is in great condition for the manned mission,” Gao Xu, deputy chief designer of the China manned space program’s astronaut system under the China Academy of Space Technology, told CCTV+ (opens in new tab).
Tiangong’s final assembly
Chen, Liu and Cai will help complete the assembly and construction of Tiangong, developing it from a single-module structure into a national space laboratory with three modules. The other two modules, named Wentian and Mengtian, are expected to launch in July and October, respectively.
Wentian and Mengtian will attach on either side of Tianhe, forming a complex about 20% as massive as the International Space Station. The Shenzhou 14 astronauts will oversee these assembly operations, which will be made with the help of Tianhe’s robotic arm.
International missions to Tiangong?
Speaking of the future plan for China’s space station, Huang Weifen, chief designer for the China Manned Space Program’s taikonaut (as China calls its astronauts) training system, said China has been cooperating with other countries. She believes that international astronauts will eventually fly to Tiangong along with their Chinese counterparts.
“Since 2012, in fact, we’ve been cooperating with the European Astronaut Center in selecting and training, medical monitoring and support and space foods,” Huang told CCTV+ (opens in new tab).
“We also sent taikonauts to each other for training. Such exchanges aim for the taikonauts from the European Space Agency to come to the China Space Station. So, we’ve been making relevant technical preparations and discussing how we should select and train,” Huang added. “We are actively doing this. And many other countries, for example Pakistan, expressed willingness to join flight missions on the China Space Station. I believe there will certainly be a time for international taikonauts to come.”
Leonard David is author of the book “Moon Rush: The New Space Race,” published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).