China becomes space exploration powerhouse as it blasts astronauts to lab in orbit

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Two astronauts blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northern China on Monday and are heading to dock on the Tiangong 2 space lab.

The astronauts, Jing Haipeng, 49, and Chen Dong, 37, will spend 30 days in orbit as Chinese authorities look to test the experimental space station.

China is joined only by the US and Russia in independently getting people into space.

Furthermore, the US-led International Space Station is due to be retired in 2024, which could potentially mean that China would be left as the only nation with a permanent base in space.

President of China, Xi Jinping, said that this is the basis for the eastern Asian nation’s advancement in space exploration as the country battles the ESA, Russia and the US to get the first people on Mars.

President Jinping added that this mission would “enable China to take larger and further steps in space exploration, and make new contributions to building up China as a space power”.

Mr Jing, who will spend his 50th birthday in space, said prior to the launch: “There is definitely some pressure with this mission. I”ve even been dreaming about it at night.

“I”m not thinking about the bouquets, the applause or the glory. 

“What I”ve been thinking more about is whether I have grasped all the knowledge and skills, whether I have addressed the weak areas.”

China has been ambitious in its space exploration programme, with other plans in the pipeline including getting a rover to Mars.

The reason it is investing so heavily in space exploration is to advance its commercial and scientific knowledge, but also its military.

For the last reason, the nation was left out of the International Space Station project, as there was feared to be a conflict of interest with other nations.

John Culberson, a Republican and member of the US House of Representatives from Texas”s seventh district, said in 2010: “I have grave concerns about the nature and goals of China’s space program and strongly oppose any cooperation between NASA and CNSA’s human space flight programmes without Congressional authorisation.”