June 11, 2013
A Chinese manned spacecraft blasted off with three astronauts on board on Tuesday on a 15-day mission to an experimental space lab in the latest step towards the development of a space station.
The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft was launched from a remote site in the Gobi desert in China’s far west at 5:38 p.m. (0938 GMT) under warm, clear blue skies, in images carried live on state television.
Once in orbit, the craft will dock with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1, a trial space laboratory module, and the two male and one female astronauts will carry out various experiments and test the module’s systems.
They will also give a lecture to students back on Earth.
China successfully carried out its first manned docking exercise with Tiangong 1 last June, a milestone in an effort to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space station that can house people for long periods.
President Xi Jinping oversaw Tuesday’s launch personally, addressing the astronauts before they blasted off to wish them success, saying he was “enormously happy” to be there.
“You are the pride of the Chinese people, and this mission is both glorious and sacred,” Xi said, according to state media.
This mission will be the longest time Chinese astronauts have spent in space, and marks the second mission for lead astronaut Nie Haisheng.
It is China’s fifth manned space mission since 2003, and was accompanied by the usual outpouring of national pride and Communist Party propaganda, including children dressed as happy ethnic minorities waving off the three at the space centre.