BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke Wednesday with three astronauts who are making the country’s first permanent space station their home for the next three months, and called their mission an important milestone in China’s space industry.
Former air force pilots Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo arrived at the space station last week. They will carry out scientific experiments and space walks and prepare the station for receiving two additional modules next year.
Xi asked after their health and living situation aboard the station. The astronauts, standing ramrod straight in a row, answered in the affirmative.
“We are all very happy to see you are in good shape and the work is going well,” Xi said, speaking from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. “The building of the space station is an important milestone in China’s space industry and it will make a pioneering contribution to the peaceful use of the space by mankind.”
“We in Beijing await your triumphant return,” he added.
The three gave a military salute before waving goodbye. Nie, Liu and Tang are carrying out China’s longest crewed space mission by far. Three more crewed missions to the station are planned.
The space station’s core module, named “Tianhe” or Heavenly Harmony, was launched into orbit on April 29. A cargo spacecraft delivered fuel, food and equipment to the station last month in preparation for the arrival of the crew.
The space agency plans 11 launches through the end of next year to add two laboratory modules to expand the 70-ton station, along with supplies and crew members. The current mission is the third of the 11 launches.
This story has been corrected to say that Tianhe is the name of the core module of the space station, not the overall station.