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China’s Shenzhou-14 mission arrives at Tiangong space station for final construction

China’s Shenzhou-14 mission has successfully docked with the country’s Tiangong space station on Sunday. According to , the three-person crew of the spacecraft arrived at the “Harmony of the Heavens” crew module at 5:42 PM local time after launching from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert earlier in the day. The arrival marks the start of a six-month stay at the station for the mission’s astronauts that will see China attempt to make significant progress toward the completion of Tiangong.

The country hopes to finish building the station by the end of the year. Next month, it will launch the first of two lab modules that will expand Tiangong’s capabilities, with the latter to follow in October. The modules will allow Chinese astronauts to conduct microgravity and life science research. After the country completed its first-ever , the Shenzhou-14 crew will conduct multiple EVAs to prepare the station for expansion. Among the three astronauts is Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman to make it to space nearly a decade ago during the country’s Shenzhou-9 mission.

Once complete, the entire t-shaped structure will be about a fifth of the size of the , with long-term accommodation for three astronauts. According to Reuters, China is exploring the possibility of allowing commercial space flights to visit Tiangong. It has also invited international space agencies to visit the station. The successful launch of Shenzhou-14 caps off a busy week in space travel, with NASA preparing to begin testing its and Blue Origin successfully flight on Saturday.

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