China's First Space Station Crew Launch Next Week to Live on Module That Could Outlast ISS

China will send its first crew to live on its new orbiting space station next week.

Three astronauts will spend three months conducting spacewalks, science experiments and performing maintenance on the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, space station that launched into orbit on April 29, the Associated Press reported.

The Chinese space agency plans for 11 launches through the end of next year to expand the station.

Once Tianhe is complete, it will allow for stays up to six months. The station is reportedly intended to be used for 15 years and may outlast the International Space Station, which is approaching the end of its functional lifespan. China does not participate in the ISS due to U.S. fears over the Chinese military and surveillance programs.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tianhe Space Station
A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. China will send its first crew to live on its new orbiting space station next week. China OUT/STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Long March-2F Y12 rocket carrying the Shenzhou-12 spaceship was transferred to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Wednesday, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a brief statement. Its tentative launch date is next Wednesday.

Another cargo mission is planned for September, shortly after which a replacement crew will be sent up, according to reports. The station's other two modules are expected to be launched next year.

China said in March the astronauts training for the upcoming crewed missions were a mix of space travel veterans and newcomers and included some women. China has sent 11 astronauts into space to date, all of them pilots from the ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army.

The first Tianhe crew will be all-male, though women will be part of future crews on the station, according to Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth in China's first crewed mission in 2003 and is now an official at the space agency.

The Tianhe builds on experience China gained from operating two experimental space stations earlier in its increasingly ambitious space program. Chinese astronauts spent 33 days living on the second of the previous stations, carried out a spacewalk and taught science classes that were beamed down to students across the country.

China landed a probe, the Tianwen-1, on Mars last month that carried a rover, the Zhurong. It also has brought back lunar samples, the first by any country's space program since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the moon's less explored far side.

China Space Launch
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceship with its Long March-2F carrier rocket is being transferred to the launching area of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gansu province, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. A three-man crew of astronauts will blast off in June for a three-month mission on China's new space station, according to a space official who was the country's first astronaut in orbit in May. Wang Jiangbo/Xinhua via AP