Chinese rocket with manned crew to blast off Thursday

·2-min read

Astronauts blasting off on Thursday for China's first manned mission to its new space station will have a choice of 120 different types of food and "space treadmills" for entertainment during their stay, China's space agency said.

The mission will be China's longest crewed space mission to date and the first in nearly five years, as Beijing pushes forward with its ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The astronauts will spend three months onboard the station, which has separate living modules for each of them, as well as a shared bathroom, dining area, and a communication centre to send emails and allow two-way video calls with ground control.

The astronauts will be able to work off their range of dinner options -- which officials assured reporters were all both nutritious and tasty -- on the space treadmills or bicycles.

The Long March-2F rocket that will get them there will lift off at 9.22 a.m. local time (0122GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre base in northwest China's Gobi desert, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The mission's commander, Nie Haisheng, was among the first batch of astronauts selected to be trained in 1998, and has already participated in two spaceflight missions.

He is a decorated air force pilot in the People's Liberation Army, and the others in his team are also members of the Chinese military.

Their Shenzhou-12 spacecraft will dock with the main section of the Tiangong space station, named Tianhe, which was placed in orbit on April 29.

Another 11 missions are planned over the next year and a half to complete the construction of Tiangong in orbit, including the attachment of solar panels and two laboratory modules.

China's desire for a human outpost of its own in Earth orbit was fuelled by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

"We are willing to carry out international cooperation with any country that is committed to the peaceful use of outer space," Ji Qiming of the CMSA told reporters on Wednesday.

The ISS -- a collaboration between the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan -- is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.

Tiangong -- which will be much smaller than the ISS -- is expected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years.

bur-rox/reb

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting