China sent a crew of astronauts into space on Thursday October 26 to its Tiangong space station, with the ambition of strengthening its knowledge of human spaceflight.

The trio of the Shenzhou-17 mission took off aboard a Longue-Marche 2F rocket at 11:14 a.m. local time (5:14 a.m. Paris time) from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi Desert (Northwest). ), according to images from state television CCTV.

It includes Commander Tang Hongbo, born in October 1975 and aged around 40, his colleague Tang Shengjie (33), as well as Jiang Xinlin (35). The average age of the crew is 38 years old, compared to 42 years old during the previous mission, Shenzhou-16.

The Moon in China’s viewfinder

The spacecraft must dock with the central module of the Tiangong (“heavenly palace”) station “around six and a half hours” after takeoff, a spokesperson for the Chinese space program, Lin Xiqiang, said on Wednesday. Their stay on Tiangong is expected to last six months.

This experience is valuable for the Asian giant, which aims to send a Chinese person to the Moon by 2030, the major objective of a space program which has been progressing steadily for several decades.

Tiangong, whose construction is now completed, has had its final T-shaped appearance for several months. Similar in size to the former Russian-Soviet station Mir, it is however much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS). Also known as CSS (for “Chinese Space Station” in English), it must remain in Earth orbit for at least ten years.

China was partly pushed to build its own station because of the United States’ refusal to allow it to participate in the ISS. An American law prohibits almost any collaboration between American and Chinese space authorities. The Asian giant, however, wishes to carry out international cooperation around Tiangong, particularly for carrying out experiments.