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China prepares to launch youngest-ever crew to Tiangong space station

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China has planned to launch its youngest-ever crew of astronauts to the Tiangong space station, underlining its commitment to space exploration and lunar ambitions. Beijing, known for its successful robotic missions to Mars and the Moon, has become the third nation to place humans in orbit as part of its flourishing space program.

The Tiangong space station, a cornerstone of China’s cosmic endeavors, is continually staffed by rotating teams of three astronauts who spend six-month shifts aboard. This latest mission, designated Shenzhou-17, is scheduled for liftoff at 11:14 am local time on Thursday from the Jiuquan launch site in China’s northwest.

“The crew of astronauts boasts the youngest average age since the commencement of space station construction,” declared Beijing’s State Council Information Office in a statement. The trio, comprising Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin, with an average age of 38, is younger than the previous crew that launched with Shenzhou-16.

President Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals for China’s space exploration, often referred to as the “space dream,” have prompted substantial investments in the nation’s space program, driven by the desire to catch up with the United States and Russia.

China’s lunar aspirations have been firmly set, with plans to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 and establish a lunar base. Despite challenges in the past, including rocket failures, the Chang’e missions have significantly contributed to lunar research. Chang’e-5 successfully collected lunar samples in 2020, a remarkable achievement. The Tiangong space station, colloquially known as the “heavenly palace,” is equipped with cutting-edge scientific instruments and is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for at least a decade.

As China pushes the boundaries of space exploration, the launch of its youngest astronaut crew marks a significant step towards realizing its ambitions in the cosmos.

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