Beijing, June 11: China today successfully launched its fifth and longest manned space mission with three astronauts, including a woman, on board 'Shenzhou-10' as part of the Communist giant's efforts to build a permanent space lab of its own by 2020.
Watched by President Xi Jinping, Shenzhou-10 (Divine Craft) spaceship carrying the three astronauts blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu province for a 15-day-long mission during which it would dock with Tiangong-1 space lab orbiting round the Earth and conduct a host of experiments.
The text-book launch of Shenzhou-10, atop an upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket, was telecast live. "China's Shenzhou-10 spacecraft, with three astronauts on board, entered its designated orbit this afternoon, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang Youxia, chief commander of China's manned space programme as saying.
Soon after the launch, Xi, also General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party, congratulated Chinese scientists on the successful launch of the Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft.
Xi came among space scientists at the command centre in Jiuquan, shook hands with those participating in the programme and sent his warm greetings to them.
"You made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves," Xi told the astronauts ahead of the launch. He the mission's crew members carry a "space dream" of the Chinese nation, and represent the lofty aspirations of the Chinese people to explore space."I wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return."
China is eyeing to join a select club of countries which have carried out more than one manned space missions.
At present, the US and Russia are the other two nations to send independently maintained space stations into orbit.
The space mission is a source of huge national pride for the communist nation, reflecting its ambition to be among the world's leading powers.
This is China's fifth manned mission and would last a fortnight compared to last year's 13 days. Wang Yaping, 35, the second Chinese woman to go into space after Liu Yang last year, was on board while the mission is being commanded by Nie Haisheng.
Nie took part in China's space mission in 2005. Zhang Xiaoguang is the third crew member.