The first crew for China’s new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing’s ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power. The mission is China’s first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz. A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China’s Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter. They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China’s longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.
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