Launching the first
manned space docking mission in China, and including the country's first ever woman astronaut, the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft launched successfully at 10:37 GMT from Jiuquan launch center in north-west Gansu province.
China has now moved one step closer to becoming the second nation in the world performing regular space flights.
China's first woman astronaut, 33-year-old Liu Yang, is an air force pilot. She enlisted in the People's Liberation Army in 1997 and was recruited as an astronaut in May 2010.
Officials from the Chinese space program have declared that Liu's entire training program was carried out in China. Space program spokeswoman, Wu Ping said that the launch was a "landmark event". She added, “We highly appreciate mutual cooperation with Russia in the space sphere, but training of the woman-astronaut was carried out absolutely independently.”
Joining her on the flight are mission commander, 46-year-old Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, 43.
A live broadcast on Chinese television from the spacecraft as it took off showed Jing, strapped into the center seat, Liu Wang seated to his right and Liu Yang to his left.
During a pre-flight
news conference, Liu Yang told reporters, "I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens."
The three astronauts will link up with the Tiangong 1 space station module, which has been in orbit since September 2011. The main goal of their mission, however, is not only to launch a manned spacecraft, but also to work out a docking procedure (both automatic and manned).
said that two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module in order to test the life-support systems. However, the third will remain in the capsule to deal with any unexpected emergencies.
The astronauts' mission will last for 13 days and once complete, the astronauts will return to Earth in the capsule, landing in the grasslands of western China.
Beijing is hoping to establish its own permanent station in orbit by the end of the decade.