China sends first astronauts to its self-developed space station

China sends first astronauts to its self-developed space station
© Twitter/China National Space Administration

China on Thursday sent the first astronauts to its self-developed space station as the world’s second-largest economy works to become a dominant force in space exploration.

The trio of astronauts — Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo — launched into space on a Shenzhou-12 spacecraft on top of a Long March 2F rocket at approximately Thursday morning in China, according to CNBC. They are en route to the Tianhe module of the country's space station.

The Chinese government put the space station into orbit at the end of April.

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The group took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, CNBC reported.

Zhang Zhifen, the director of the launch center, said the mission was a “complete success” at around 20 minutes after the launch, the business news channel noted.

The trip is reportedly the first time since 2016 that China has launched a manned mission to space.

The three astronauts will be docked at the station for three months to complete maintenance work, spacewalks and science experiments.

A cargo spacecraft was launched to the station last month to provide food, fuel and other equipment for the crew.

China will launch 11 missions for cargo and other astronauts to go to the space station by the end of 2022. Four of those will be manned missions, according to CNBC.

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Another launch is reportedly scheduled for September. That crew will replace the current trio that launched into space Thursday.

China is not permitted to send astronauts to the International Space Station, which is a joint effort between the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, CNBC noted.

The country, according to Time, has been banned from the station since 2011, when Congress passed a bill forbidding official American contact with the Chinese space program out of concerns for national security.