On October 26, 2023, Shenzhou-17 (XVII) was scheduled to blast off with three astronauts on a 6-month long mission.
The new crew took over from the Shenzhou-16 (XVI) crew who had been on board since May 2023.
This is China's sixth manned space mission since 2021.
The crew consists of Tang Hongbo, 48, Tang Shengjie, 33, and Jiang Xinlin, 35 with Tang Hongbo as the lead.
Tang hails from China's second batch of astronauts and had some experiences in space. As a former jet pilot, he was on China’s first crewed mission to its space station, Tiangong in 2021.
He also broke record as the astronaut with the shortest interval between space missions.
The latter two astronauts are newcomers. They joined China's third batch of astronauts a little over three years ago.
A successful launch.
The Chinese Manned Space Agency declared the launch of the Shenzhou XVII mission a success after the Long March 2F rocket carrying the crew ship took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China's Gobi Desert at 11.14 a.m.
The spaceship docked at the front port of the Tianhe core module, the main body of Tiangong after six and a half hours.
According to China Daily, the crew spent nearly two hours on preparatory work to enter the space station, which included changing from their pressure suits into intravehicular suits.
At the same time, their fellow peers from the Shenzhou XVI crew waited for them inside the connection cabin.
When all preparations were done, mission commander Major General Jing Haipeng, Colonel Zhu Yangzhu, and Professor Gui Haichao opened the hatch in the connection cabin to welcome the new team at 7.34 p.m.
The first to step out of the Shen?zhou XVII spaceship was Tang Hongbo, followed by Tang Shengjie and Jiang, who were all greeted with hugs by Jing, Zhu and Gui.
IMAGE: Xinhua News Net
"We have been in space for nearly five months and we missed you so much," Jing said.
"We know you've trained very hard and made all-out efforts to prepare for your mission. … Now, you have realized your dream of being in this space station and we want to extend our heartiest congratulations."
Jing said he and his team were very happy and excited to see their "brothers from Shenzhou XVII". He pointed to a banner his team had placed inside the Tianhe module that read, "Welcome, our teammates".
It was a meaningful moment because it marks the first gathering of crew members from China's first, second, and third generations of astronauts in the space station.
Shenzhou XVII crew's arrival also marks that 20 Chinese astronauts have made it to the Earth's orbit — bringing pride to the Chinese Manned Space Agency.
"Your outstanding performance during the past five months has set a very good example for us. We closely followed your work and learned a lot from you when we trained on the ground," said Tang Hongbo as Shenzhou XVII mission commander.
After some talking, the six astronauts took a group selfie amid cheers from ground controllers. The event was broadcast by China Central Television.
The whole handover process will take up to four days before the Shenzhou XVI crew depart to return home.
As for the Shenzhou XVII crew, they will man the space station for six months and are scheduled to return home in April 2024.
Amidst their routine tasks, the team will also perform experimental repair operations on the damages outside of the space station due to space debris.