Today, China is set to launch its longest manned spacecraft mission at 7:30pm ET (2330 GMT) from the Gobi Desert and you can watch it live right here.
Two men, Jing Haipeng, 49, and Chen Dong, 37, have been given the task of testing out the life support system of China’s Tiangong 2 space station. The Shenzhou-11 “Heavenly Vessel” will ride into orbit, dock with the station and the crew will spend 30 days conducting experiments aboard.
This will be Jing Haipeng’s third flight and he will celebrate his 50th birthday in space.
Chen Dong told assembled reporters at a press conference that their tests will “focus on improving our ability to handle emergencies in orbit, medical first aid, mutual rescue capabilities and space experiments.” They will also be bringing three experiments that were designed by middle school students from Hong Kong. One experiment will involve testing silkworms in micro-gravity.
China has increased the ambitions of its space program considerably in recent years and mostly focused on near-Earth space exploration but that is expected to change soon. Its last manned mission, Shenzou 10, took place in 2013 and lasted for 15 days. The country has plans to send a probe to Mars and potentially put another man on the moon. In the near-term, Zhang Yulin, an official with the space program and the Central Military Commission, told reporters that they plan to send spacecraft further than 400km and increase their frequency. He said, “Spacecraft launches won’t be like now, one every few years, instead there will be several each year.”
The Tiangong space stations are just a precursor to China’s ultimate goal of putting a permanent 20-ton space station into orbit 2022, two-years before the International Space Station will be retired.
Unfortunately, Congress has banned NASA from working with China on its space program due to national security concerns. Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College, specializes in space programs and space security. She warns that “If the US does not change its policies very soon and begin to work with China in space, it will lose whatever leverage it might have in shaping Chinese space plans for the future.”
You can watch the live stream below at 7:30pm ET on Sunday, October 16th. If something goes wrong with that stream you can also see it here.