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SpaceX launches first completely civilian-crewed rocket into orbit as Chinese astronauts return

The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women will spend three days circling the world.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

SPACEX HAS SENT the first-ever all civilian-crewed rocket into orbit from the Kennedy Space Centre.

The company’s first private flight blasted off with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor.

It was the first time a rocket left Earth without any professional astronauts on board as Chris Sembroski, Dr. Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux made their way to Space.

SpaceX’s recycled rocket soared in early hours of this morning Irish time from the launch pad in Florida which has been used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for Nasa.

But this time, the Dragon capsule aimed for an unusually high orbit, 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women will spend three days circling the world, before splashing down off the coast of Florida.

Meanwhile three Chinese astronauts have completed the country’s longest crewed mission and started their journey home today after 90 days at the Tiangong space station conducting spacewalks and scientific experiments.

“The Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft has successfully separated from the space station’s core module,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

The mission was part of China’s heavily promoted space programme, which has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.

The craft carrying the three taikonauts is expected to return to earth on Friday, state-run China Aerospace news reported.

The launch of Beijing’s first crewed mission in nearly five years coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on 1 July.

Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace”, is expected to last at least 10 years.

The core module of the space station, where the astronauts lived, has separate living spaces for each astronaut, a “space treadmill” and an exercise bike, as well as a communication centre for emails and video calls with ground control, China’s space administration said.

The mission is headed by Nie Haisheng, a decorated airforce pilot in the People’s Liberation Army who previously participated in two space missions.

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The two other astronauts, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, are also in the military.

The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 launches before the end of next year, including three more crewed missions that will deliver two lab modules to expand the 70-tonne station.

China’s space ambitions have been fuelled in part by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.

Will reporting from © AFP 2021 and Niall O’Connor

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