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Chinese Taikonauts Head For China's First Space Station Today

Illustration for article titled Chinese iTaikonauts/i Head For Chinas First Space Station Today

China launched their first space station almost exactly a year ago, and today they launched their first three-person crew to give it a try. This mission will be China's longest, at 15 days, and will include China's second female taikonaut. Sounds great, even if what they're visiting isn't really a space station.

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I say it's not really a space station not because of any slight, but because Tiangong 1 is more accurately a prototype for a future resupply ship to serve China's planned later, larger space stations. That's actually much more impressive than if it was just a small, Salyut 1-type space station. Still, it's acting as a small space station right now, so that's certainly good enough for me, and it certainly fits all the basic space station criteria.

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Illustration for article titled Chinese iTaikonauts/i Head For Chinas First Space Station Today

During the mission, the crew of Shenzou 10, Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang, and Wang Yaping will have a number of objectives, but the biggest one will be continual throughout the mission: living in space for an extended period. As you can imagine, the ability to do this is a pretty big deal for all future spacefaring operations, so this is clearly the primary goal.

It's likely the Shenzou ferry craft will dock and undock a few times to get as much data as possible, in both automated and manual modes.

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Good luck up there!

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DISCUSSION

If this isn't a space station, what was SkyLab?