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Iran made another tentative foray into the global launch family during 2015. The country’s attempt . . .
China’s most recent human mission to space was in June 2013, when three taikonauts docked a capsule with the Tiangong-1 space station. Since then, China has announced plans to launch a second space station, Tiangong-2, to replace Tiangong-1. The Chinese government continued assembling and testing Tiangong-2 in 2015, intending to launch it into orbit sometime in 2016. A subsequent crewed mission, Shenzhou-11, would be launched later in 2016. The crew will dock with the Tiangong-2 and may stay in the space station as long as a month.
In 2015, Russia continued to be the only nation flying humans into space since June 2013. The Russian Soyuz capsule was conceived, designed, and first launched nearly five decades prior to 2015. The Soyuz space launch vehicle that boosted the Soyuz capsule into space has an even longer heritage. The first of its family launched as the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, and a succeeding generation launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. Capsule and launch vehicle continued to be modified over the years, enabling them to remain in service.
Nearly five years have passed since the United States stepped back from launching humans with its own space vehicles, the last of which flew in July 2011. The country conducts human operations in space on the ISS, contracting the launch of U.S. astronauts through the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos. In August 2015, NASA reserved six seats for 2018 from the Russians for $490 million. NASA’s leadership reported that the contract was necessary due to underfunding of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which reduced NASA’s ability to support private companies developing human space launch capabilities.