With the arrival of three astronauts to China's Tiangong space station, the unofficial rival to the International Space Station (ISS) is now being used for the country’s longest space mission yet.
The Shenzhou 13 mission includes astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu, according to Space.com. The trio arrived at Tiangong on Saturday after launching into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launching Center in the Gobi Desert.
While their mission includes spacewalks and equipment testing, perhaps the most impressive aspect is the space station itself.
The orbital lab boasts a number of tools and designs that set it apart from the ISS, which is fairly old and slated to be retired within the next decade. Not only does Tiangong have spacious bunks for its astronauts, but it also has a sleek space gym and separate living spaces for each crewmember — with a minimalist white interior design that looks more like an Apple store than a cramped space habitat.
Compare that to the ISS, which looks downright obsolete in comparison..
With the first module launched in 1998, the ISS was only meant to have a 30-year lifespan. That means its intended "death date" is a mere seven years from now — and no offense to the spacecraft, but it’s definitely showing its age.
The ISS’s sleeping quarters are roughly the size of a phone booth, paling in comparison to Tiangong's beds. In fact, it’s so cramped that astronauts are sometimes forced to "sleep kind of together, wherever," NASA astronaut Scott Kelly told Travel & Leisure earlier this year.
On top of that is the ISS's — shall we say — cluttered interior design. Much of its space is filled with a hodgepodge of wires, computers, and miscellaneous hardware.
It’s enough of a mess to make you wonder whether or not it poses a hazard to everyone on board. After all, if there’s an emergency — there have been plenty lately — an astronaut might have to navigate a dizzying array of wires and tools to fix it.
At the end of the day, though, we love the ISS for everything it's given us, and for being a place astronauts could call home for decades. But now times are changing, and it's not the coolest spot in orbit anymore.
READ MORE: Shenzhou 13 astronauts begin China’s longest mission ever at space station module [Space.com]