China launches new mission to space station

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China sent a fresh crew to its Tiangong space station on Thursday, in the latest mission for a growing space program that plans to send people to the moon by 2030.

The Shenzhou-17 blasted off from the Jiuquan launch site in arid northwest China at 11:14 am (0314 GMT), carrying a three-astronaut team with the youngest average age since the space station’s construction.

A send-off ceremony on Thursday morning saw the space travelers bid farewell to observers before heading off to prepare for the rocket launch.

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“The spaceship, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China,” China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.

Captaining the team is Tang Hongbo, who is on his first return mission to the space station.

Accompanying him are Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin, both in their thirties and each making maiden space voyages.

The all-male crew has an average age of 38, compared to 42 for the crew of Shenzhou-16 when it launched.

Members of the previous Shenzhou-16 crew -- aboard Tiangong for nearly five months now -- are currently preparing to receive the trio before returning to Earth next week.

Tiangong, the crown jewel of Beijing’s space program, is constantly crewed by rotating teams of three astronauts.

Plans for China’s “space dream” have been put into overdrive under President Xi Jinping.

The world’s second-largest economy has pumped billions of dollars into its military-run space program in an effort to catch up with the United States and Russia.

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