China has launched its second-ever space lab, a key part of the nation's plan to have a permanently staffed space station up and running by the early 2020s. The uncrewed Tiangong-2 spacecraft lifted off Thursday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 10:04 a.m. EDT (1404 GMT; 10:04 p.m. local Beijing time), riding a Long March-2F T2 rocket to orbit. If all goes according to plan, the 9.5-ton (8.6 metric tons) Tiangong-2 -- whose name translates as "Heavenly Palace" in Mandarin -- will soon settle into an orbit about 236 miles (380 kilometers) above Earth and perform a series of initial tests and checkouts, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency. The space lab will then climb to an altitude of 244 miles (393 km) -- the same height at which China's future space station will operate -- and await a mid- to late-October visit from two Chinese astronauts aboard a vessel called Shenzhou-11. Those astronauts, who have not yet been publicly identified, will stay aboard Tiangong-2 for 30 days, conducting a series of experiments in biology, physics and space medicine, Xinhua reported.
Astronaut Scott Kelly (right) sits with his twin brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly, at a media briefing in January 2015. If you believe recent news, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly went to space, spent a year there, and came back with substantial changes to his DNA. Some outlets are even reporting that a whopping seven percent of Kelly's genes--segments of DNA that code for various proteins--are "abnormal" post-spaceflight. Unfortunately, even Kelly appears to be surprised by the news. My DNA changed by 7%!
In this image made from video provided by NASA, astronaut Peggy Whitson boards the International Space Station on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. In this image made from video provided by NASA, astronaut Peggy Whitson boards the International Space Station on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- The International Space Station gained three new residents Saturday, including the oldest and most experienced woman to orbit the world. The Soyuz delivered NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy.