JIUQUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER, China – China on Thursday launched its youngest-ever crew for its orbiting space station, aiming to put astronauts on the moon before 2030.

The Shenzhou 17 spacecraft lifted off at 11:14 a.m. (03:14 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwest China on a Long March 2-F rocket.

According to the China Manned Space Agency, the average age of the three-person crew is the youngest since the mission to build the space station began, state broadcaster CCTV previously reported. Their average age is 38, state media China Daily said.

Beijing is pursuing plans to send astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade as it competes with the United States to reach new space milestones. This reflects competition for influence between the world’s two largest economies in the areas of technology, military and diplomacy.

Read more: China’s space ambitions are fueling competition and cooperation

The trio – Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin – will replace a crew that has been on the station for six months. Tang is a veteran who led a space mission for three months in 2021.

The new crew will conduct experiments in space medicine, space technology and other areas during their mission, as well as help install and maintain equipment inside and outside the station, the agency said.

On Wednesday, the agency also announced plans to send a new telescope to probe deep into the universe. CCTV said the telescope would enable surveys and mapping of the sky, but no time frame for installation was given.

China has been studying the movement of stars and planets for thousands of years and has become a pioneer in space exploration and science in modern times.

Read more: From satellites to the Moon and Mars, China is quickly becoming a space superpower

It built its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns about control of the program by the People’s Liberation Army, the military arm of the ruling Communist Party.

With the first manned space mission in 2003, China became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the USA to propel a human into space under its own power.

American spending, supply chains and capabilities are believed to give the country a significant advantage over China, at least for now. But China has broken out in some areas, bringing back samples from the lunar surface for the first time in decades and landing a rover on the moon’s less explored far side.

The US, meanwhile, aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of a renewed commitment to human missions supported by private players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

In addition to their lunar programs, the two countries have also separately landed rovers on Mars, and China plans to follow the United States in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid.

Associated Press video producer Caroline Chen at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and journalist Kanis Leung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

Source : time.com

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