China is running a biological radiation exposure experiment outside its space station.
The country's Shenzhou 16 astronauts — Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao — installed the experiment outside the Tiangong space station's Mengtian science module on June 10, China's National Space Science Center (NSSC) announced in a statement.
The experiment was deployed using Mentian's dedicated payload airlock and attached to an external payload adapter using the space station's small robotic arm.
The experiment payload contains 13 sample box units loaded with biomaterials. These are designed to study the impact of cosmic radiation and microgravity on organisms, the origin and evolution of life and the development of space radiation mutagenic resources.
The equipment can be used for in-orbit experiments on biological samples, including plant seeds, microorganisms and small animals, according to NSSC. The temperature inside each sample container unit can be adjusted to suit the organisms it is hosting.
On-orbit medical research involving space radiation biological exposure is of great significance to supporting China's human spaceflight program. That program is ambitious, with plans to launch long-term crewed missions in Earth orbit and send people to the surface of the moon, the Chinese-language outlet Science and Technology Daily reported.
The experiment payload was developed jointly by the NSSC and Dalian Maritime University. It is intended to operate for five years and is planned to be used for several scientific projects.
The Shenzhou 16 crew arrived at Tiangong on May 30 and will remain aboard the space station until November.
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.