Three Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts, arrived at the Tianhe core module of the unfinished Tiangong space station on Sunday morning, where they’ll stay for six months to help finish its construction (via Space.com). The Shenzhou 14 spacecraft took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Saturday at 10:44PM ET (10:44AM local time) and docked with Tianhe at 5:42AM ET (5:42PM local time).
The three-person crew includes Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe, and Liu Yang, who originally made history as the first Chinese woman in space during the country’s Shenzhou 9 mission in 2012. While they’re in orbit, the crew is expected to conduct several spacewalks and prepare the station for the arrival of two additional lab modules, with the Wentian module set to launch next month and the Mengtian in October. As noted by Space.com, the two modules will attach to opposite sides of the Tianhe core module to create a T-shaped station that will be smaller than the International Space Station (ISS).
China aims to complete the construction of Tiangong by the end of this year, with the launch of the Xuntian telescope module slated for 2023. Shenzhou 14 is China’s third crewed mission to the space station since the launch of the Tianhe module in April 2021. This latest trio is set to welcome the Shenzhou 15 crew aboard the station towards the end of this year, marking the first time the station will hold six people.