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A Chinese spacecraft with three astronauts docks at a new space station

A Chinese spacecraft with three astronauts docks at a new space station

The Shenzhou-12 spacecraft docked at the housing unit of the Tianhe Space Station about six hours after liftoff earlier today in China.

The Chinese crew will conduct scientific experiments, maintenance work, spacewalks and prepare for the installation of two additional units.

While China admits it has fallen behind in the race for space stations, the country maintains that its facilities are modern and can outlast the International Space Station, which is nearing the end of its useful life.

Today’s launch re-launches China’s manned space program after a five-year hiatus.

With today’s crew, China has increased the number of astronauts it has launched into space to 14 since it first achieved the feat in 2003, becoming the third country to do so, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

When the Chinese economy began to gain strength in the early 1990s, China formulated a plan for space exploration, which it carried out at a steady and cautious pace.

Although the country was banned from participating in the International Space Station, mainly due to objections from the United States, which point to the ambiguous nature of the Chinese program and its close ties to the armed forces, China has moved forward with the construction of the special station, aiming to achieve the status of a space power.

On Wednesday, Assistant Director of China’s Manned Space Agency, Ji Qiming, told reporters at the Jiuquan Launch Center that the construction and operation of the space station will advance Chinese technologies and “gather useful experiences for all people.”

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The space program is part of a comprehensive effort to put China on the path to more ambitious missions and provide opportunities for cooperation with Russia and other primarily European countries, along with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

China’s space program has always been a source of great national pride, illustrating the rise from poverty to the world’s second largest economy over the past four decades.