China launches Shenzhou-18, sending three taikonauts on a pioneering six-month mission to the Tiangong Space Station

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Picture credit: Xinhua/Li Gang.

25th Apri l 2024 – (Beijing) China has successfully launched the Shenzhou-18 manned spacecraft, propelling three taikonauts towards the Tiangong space station for an extended six-month mission. The launch took place at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China, with the spacecraft carried by the reliable Long March-2F rocket.

The mission is led by Commander Ye Guangfu, marking his second space voyage, alongside first-time space travellers Li Cong and Li Guangsu. This team is set to undertake a series of over 90 scientific experiments in various disciplines including microgravity physics, space material science, and space life sciences.

One of the most intriguing aspects of their mission involves the creation of a miniature “aquarium” in space. This experiment will involve raising zebrafish in a 1.25-litre tank to study the effects of zero gravity on aquatic life. The success of this experiment could lead to significant advancements in sustaining vertebrate life in space, potentially allowing future taikonauts to cultivate their own space-borne fish supplies.

Additionally, the Shenzhou-18 crew will engage in pioneering botanical experiments by growing Arabidopsis seeds under microgravity. This research aims to observe changes in plant stem cells, with potential implications for developing crops that could thrive in extraterrestrial environments. The seeds will be grown for about four weeks and then frozen at minus 80 degrees Celsius for analysis back on Earth.

The mission also includes experiments designed to explore the co-evolution of proteins and nucleic acids and to test new spacecraft materials, further demonstrating China’s commitment to advancing scientific knowledge through its space program.