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A spaceship carrying three astronauts has arrived at China's new space station at the start of a 3-month mission.
The Shenzhou-12 spaceship carrying three astronauts docked with China's new space station on Thursday, state media reported.
The craft connected with the Tianhe space station module about six hours after blasting off from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi desert of northwestern China.
Shenzhou-12 is the third of 11 missions — four of which will be crewed — needed to complete China's first space station.
The astronauts, wearing their spacesuits, were seen off by the commander of China's manned space program and other military personnel. The three also waved to the crowd before heading to the Jiuquan launch center.
Construction on the Tiangong space station in low-Earth orbit began in April with the launch of Tianhe, the first and largest of three modules.
Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, are set to stay for three months in Tianhe's main living quarters and will carry out experiments, conduct maintenance and prepare the station for two more modules scheduled to launch next year.
"This will be the first crewed flight in the space station [construction] phase, and I'm lucky to be able to have the 'first baton,'" Nie told reporters a day before the launch.
The T-shaped space station's three modules weigh about 66 metric tons, compared with the International Space Station at about 420 tons. It could, however, be expanded to as many as six modules.
Retired astronaut Thomas Reiter, who overseas international cooperation for the European Space Agency, said China is not yet headed for space domination — but is clearly a space-faring nation, adding that its space program may have dual-use military implications.
China has "mastered all the disciplines necessary to fly to space, starting from a large launcher program," Reiter said; however, China is not yet headed for "dominance" in space.
This mission brings the number of Chinese astronauts who traveled to space to 14. China had launched its first crew mission in 2003, becoming only the third country after Russia, and the former Soviet Union, and the United States to do so.
rm/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa)