Major milestones in Chinese space exploration


China launched a spacecraft on Thursday carrying three astronauts to the main module of the country’s space station, its first crewed mission in nearly five years.

China’s first full-fledged space station is still under construction. When completed, it will be the only rival to the International Space Station (ISS) backed by the United States, Japan and Russia. China has never participated in the ISS.

Here is a timeline of key moments in Chinese space exploration:

19 July 1964: China took its first official step into space, launching and recovering an experimental biological rocket carrying white mice.

24 April 1970: The first Chinese satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, was launched from the Jiuquan launch centre in the northwestern province of Gansu. That made China the fifth country to send satellites into orbit, following the Soviet Union, the United States, France and Japan.

26 November 1975: China launched its first recoverable satellite.

20 November 1999: China launched its first unmanned spacecraft, the Shenzhou-1.

15 October 2003: China became the third country after the United States and Russia to send a man into space with its own rocket. Astronaut Yang Liwei spent about 21 hours in space aboard the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft.

12 October 2005: China sent two men on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou-6 spacecraft.

5 November 2007: China’s first lunar orbiter, Chang’e-1, entered the moon’s orbit 12 days after takeoff.

25 September 2008: China’s third manned spacecraft, Shenzhou-7, was launched into space, where an astronaut clambered out of the spacecraft for the nation’s first space walk.

1 October 2010: China’s second lunar exploration probe blasted off from a remote corner of the southwestern province of Sichuan.

29 September 2011: The Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1”, China’s first space lab, was launched to carry out docking and orbiting experiments.

3 November 2011: China carried out its first docking exercise between two unmanned spacecraft, the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 module, a key test to securing a long-term manned presence in space.

14 December 2013: China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the moon in the first “soft-landing” since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in accomplishing the feat.

15 September 2016:China launched its second experimental space laboratory, the Tiangong-2, part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

3 January 2019: The Chang’e-4 lunar probe, launched in December, touched down on the far side of the moon. Previous spacecraft have flown over the far side but not landed on it.

23 June 2020: China put into orbit its final Beidou satellite, completing a navigation network years in the making and setting the stage to challenge the US-owned Global Positioning System (GPS).

23 July 2020: China launched an unmanned probe to Mars in its first independent mission to another planet.

24 November 2020: China launched an uncrewed mission, the Chang’e-5, with the aim of collecting lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins.

1 December 2020: China landed the Chang’e-5 probe on the moon’s surface.

29 April 2021: China launched Tianhe, the first and largest of three modules of its upcoming space station.

15 May 2021: China became the second country after the United States to land a robotic rover on the surface of Mars.

17 June 2021: China launched the crewed Shenzhou-12 spacecraft to dock with Tianhe.