China's longest manned space mission begins
CHINA launched its longest manned space mission yesterday, sending two astronauts into orbit to spend a month aboard a space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
The Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 7.30am local time (7.30am Singapore time) from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in images carried live on state television.
The astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 or Heavenly Palace 2 space laboratory, which was sent into space last month. It will be the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, the state media reported.
Early yesterday, Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of China's powerful Central Military Commission, met astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong and wished them well, state news agency Xinhua reported.
"You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation," Mr Fan said.
"With all the scientific and rigorous training, discreet preparation, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and tough task... We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return."
Shenzhou 11, whose name translates as Divine Vessel, will also carry three experiments designed by Hong Kong middle school students and selected in a science competition, including one that will take silk worms into space.
China will launch a "core module" for its first space station some time around 2018, a senior official said in April, part of a plan for a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.