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China successfully sends three astronauts to Tiangong Space Station

June 5 (UPI) -- China on Sunday successfully launched a manned mission to its Tiangong Space Station.

The three-person crew launched on the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft from the Jiquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 10:44 a.m. local time with the astronauts entering the Tianhe core module at 8:50 p.m.

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The astronauts -- Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe -- will live and work in space for six months as part of China's space station construction work before making a return to earth in December.

During their time on the station, the crew will conduct as many as three spacewalks, using the airlock module as well as robot arms.

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"They will for the first time enter the Wentian and the Mengtian space labs to unlock and test more than a dozen experimental boxes and many others," said Huang Weifen, chief astronaut system designer for the China Manned Space Program.

China plans to have the space station fully crewed and operational by December 2022 and then last for 15 years with two crewed missions and two cargo missions sent to the station every year.

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Sunday's was the third crewed mission China has launched during the construction of the space station.

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Chen, the mission commander, was aboard China's Shenzhou-11 manned space mission in 2016 and previously held the record for longest stay in space by a Chinese astronaut, while Liu became the first-ever Chinese woman in space on the Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012. Cai will be traveling to space for the first time on this mission.

At the conclusion of the Shenzhou-14 mission, three more astronauts are expected to rotate and live with the crew for up to 10 days.

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