(Photo by Zhao Lei/chinadaily.com.cn)
The three astronauts of the Shenzhou XVI mission, China's 11th manned spaceflight, headed to the launch tower after a send-off ceremony early on Tuesday morning in front of their residential building at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gobi Desert.
All in spacesuit, mission commander Major General Jing Haipeng, Colonel Zhu Yangzhu, who is spaceflight engineer, and Professor Gui Haichao, science payloads specialist in the mission, reported to General Xu Xueqiang, commander-in-chief of the country's manned space program, that they were ready for the mission and asked for permission to embark on the flight.
Xu gave his permission before the crew saluted him and all the participants to the brief event. Then the astronauts boarded their coach to the launch tower.
Many workers and residents at the Jiuquan center stood along the road and hailed the astronauts as their vehicle passed them.
The Shenzhou XVI will be the debut flight for China's third generation of astronauts and will become the first time for any Chinese civilian to fly out of Earth.
This will be the fourth time for Jing to fly into space, making him the most experienced astronaut in China.
Zhu and Gui are the first in the country's third-generation astronauts to engage in spaceflight.
The Shenzhou XVI crew will stay inside the Tiangong for around five months and is scheduled to return to Earth in November. They will carry out several spacewalks during the mission to mount equipment outside the station and maintain the massive orbital outpost, said mission officials.
In addition to spacewalks, their major tasks also include assisting with the docking and departure of visiting spacecraft such as cargo ships and a space-based telescope, conducting scientific experiments and technological demonstrations, and hosting science lectures.