Shenzhou 11 Astronauts Begin China's Longest Space Mission

A couple of Chinese astronauts carried by Shenzhou 11 have docked on board the Tiangong 2 Space Station today. They will stay for 30 days aboard the space lab marking the country's longest space mission ever.

The Shenzhou 11 was launched last October 16 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The two Chinese astronauts or "taikonauts" spent two days travelling through space before reaching Tiangong 2 which is 244 miles above Earth. The spacecraft docked on the space lab, which was launched last month, at 19:24 GMT on Tuesday (03:24 Beijing time). The duo will spend a total of 33 days in space, according to a report.

Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will conduct numerous tests on board Tiangong 2 in preparation for the launching of the Tianhe 1, China's more permanent space station. Aside from scientific experiments, the pair will also do some necessary repairs on the space lab.

China has plans for a long-duration space flight and this mission is just one of the steps to achieve that goal. Some reports say that China will be sending another manned mission in 2017. The rumoured mission will have three Chinese astronauts. In 2018, the Tianhe 1 will be launched if everything goes as planned. Reports say that the country also has plans to probe Mars using an unmanned rover by 2020 and to send a taikonaut to the moon by 2025.

Jing is a veteran of three space missions including this one. The 50-year old fighter pilot was also part of the Shenzhou 7 and Shenzhou 9 missions. The 38-year old Chen, meanwhile, is on his first mission in space.

China is only the third country in the world to send manned missions to space after the United States and Russia. They launched their first crewed space mission in 2003. Shenzhou 11 is their sixth.

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