China's Shenzhou 11 blasts off on longest manned space mission
Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong blasts off from the launchpad in Jiuquan, China, Photograph: (Reuters)
China launched its longest manned space mission today as it blasted off Shenzhou 11 on Long March rocket at 7:30 am (2330 GMT) from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, Reuters reported.
With this launch, China has moved a step closer to its ambition of establishing its permanent space station by 2022. Two astronauts have been sent into orbit to spend a month aboard a space laboratory.
For the Chinese astronauts ---- Jing Haipeng (50) and Chen Dong (37) -- this will be the longest stay in space, state media reported. They will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or "Heavenly Palace 2", that was sent into space last month, according to Reuters.
The two astronauts appeared in good spirits hours before the lift-off, PTI reported.
“Although the job is challenging, risky and dangerous, there is nothing more I would rather do,” Jing, who is commander of this mission, was quoted as saying by PTI. This will be Jing’s third spaceflight following his Shenzhou-7 mission in September 2008 and Shenzhou-9 mission in March 2012. He will celebrate his 50th birthday in orbit.
“(For this mission) we have improved our ability to deal with emergencies, first-aid and space experiments,” he said.
“I will treasure every moment in space and ensure I record my experience in my diary and enjoy the out-of-this-world scenery,” Chen said.
Early on Monday, Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China's powerful Central Military Commission, met Jing Haipeng and Chen 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," Fan was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"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."
China insists its space programme is for peaceful purposes.
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.
The US Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.
China has been working to develop its space program for military, commercial and scientific purposes, but is still playing catch-up to established space powers the United States and Russia.
(WION with inputs from agencies)