China launched Sunday a three-person mission to finish assembly work for its permanent orbiting space station.
The Shenzhou 14 crew will spend six month on Tiangong station. During this time, they will supervise the addition of two laboratory module to the Tianhe living area that was launched in April 2021.
At 10:44 AM (0244 GMT), the spaceship took off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at the Gobi Desert. It was atop Long March 2F, the workhorse of the crewed space flight program. It reached low Earth orbit 15 minutes later and opened its solar panels. Ground controllers in Jiuquan, Beijing, and Beijing applauded.
The live broadcast of the launch on state television indicated a growing level of confidence in China's space program. This was promoted as a sign that China is technologically advanced and has global influence.
Commander Chen Dong, along with fellow astronauts Liu Yang & Cai Xuzhe, will assemble the three-module structure linking the Tianhe with Wentian & Mengtian. This construction is expected to arrive in July or October. The station is still docked with another cargo craft, Tianzhou-3.
Chen, 43, was speaking at Saturday's press conference as he spoke about the arrival of new modules that will "provide more stability and more powerful functions, more comprehensive equipment."
Liu, 43 years old, is also a space veteran. In 2012, she was China's first woman astronaut to travel into space on the Shenzhou 9 mission. Cai, 46 years old, is embarking on his first space flight.
China's 2003 launch of its first astronaut into orbit by its space program was the third such feat after the U.S. and Soviet Union.
It has placed one robot rover on Mars and one on the moon. China has also sent lunar samples back to Earth and officials are discussing a crewed mission.
China's space program is managed by the People's Liberation Army military wing of the Communist Party, which led the United States to expel it from the International Space Station.
The crew of Shenzhou 15 will join Chen, Liu, and Cai at the end their mission for three to 5 days. This will mark the first time that the station has had six people aboard.