BEIJING: China will send three astronauts to its new space station this week, officials confirmed Thursday, in what will be Beijing's longest crewed mission to date.
The three will blast off at 12:23 a.m. on Saturday from the launch centre in northwestern China's Gobi desert, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said at a press conference Thursday. They will spend six months at the Tiangong space station's core module, Tianhe.
Their mission - twice as long as its record-holding predecessor - aims to test "critical technologies" for assembling Tiangong, CMSA deputy director Lin Xiqiang said.
The mission will also include "two to three" spacewalks to install components needed for future construction work, Lin said. The three "taikonauts" - as China calls its astronauts - include commander Zhai Zhigang, 55, a former People's Liberation Army (PLA) fighter pilot who in 2008 performed the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut.