The confirmation has arrived that three Chinese taikonauts of the Shenzhou 14 mission have reached the Chinese space station’s Tianhe core module with an automated docking maneuver. They blasted off about seven hours earlier atop a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. They’re the third crew of the Chinese space station and will remain there for about six months, the standard duration for a mission.
The three taikonauts, as the Chinese call their astronauts, of the Shenzhou 14 mission are Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe. The information released by the Chinese authorities is limited even though two of them are veterans of the Chinese space program. We know that these are three Chinese Air Force pilots selected for the Armed Forces Astronaut Corps. Chen Dong, 44, was part of Shenzhou 11 mission crew in 2016. Liu Yang, 44, was the first Chinese woman to go to space in 2012 as part of Shenzhou 9 mission crew. Cai Xuzhe, 46, is on his first space mission.
During their Shenzhou 14 mission, in addition to various tasks such as scientific experiments, the taikonauts will have to manage the assembly of the Tiangong space station of which Tianhe is the core module. This is a critical phase for the Chinese space program because eventually, China will have a complete space station.
According to the program, the Wentian module, which will also provide redundancy systems for the ones of the Tianhe core module, will be launched on July 24, 2022. The Mengtian module will be launched in October 2022 and also has an airlock to enable moving instruments to be installed outside or to be brought back into the station.
The assembly of the Chinese Tiangong space station will greatly increase the possibilities of conducting scientific experiments. Another benefit will be the possibility of hosting more than three taikonauts at least for a certain period. The Tianhe module was uninhabited for a few weeks because the Shenzhou 13 mission taikonauts returned to Earth on April 16, 2022. The Shenzhou 14 mission taikonauts will return to Earth in December, but first, their replacements of the Shenzhou 15 mission will arrive.
Basically, during the Shenzhou 14 mission, more steps are scheduled to be taken in the Chinese space program to always have a crew in their national space station. If the plan goes as scheduled, China will catch up with the other major space powers in this respect.