China on Tuesday launched its fifth manned space mission with three astronauts, including its second female astronaut, to carry out experiments in space over 15 days.
The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Centre in northwestern Gansu province at 5.38 p.m. (3.08 p.m. IST) on Tuesday. The spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong space laboratory module — the second manned docking mission after Shenzhou-9 in June 2012.
This mission will be the longest yet for the country’s rapidly advancing space programme, and is seen as a crucial step in plans to build a space station by 2020. China’s space programme is seen as behind only the U.S. and Russia in its feats.
The Shenzhou-9 had created history by carrying into space China’s first woman astronaut, Liu Yang, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force pilot. Following in her footsteps is Wang Yaping (33), in charge of monitoring conditions, experiments and taking care of fellow crew members on this mission, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Ms. Wang is accompanied by Nie Haisheng (48), a Major General in the PLA who was also a part of the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005, and Zhang Xiaoguang (47).
The veteran astronaut said this mission was the most complex he had seen during his long career. “Compared to the Shenzhou-6 mission, this mission will be longer, with more experiments to be conducted, so it will be a new challenge with greater risks,” Mr. Nie told state media.
During the mission, Ms. Wang will also hold a “space lesson” through video conferencing during which she “will illustrate the phenomena of physics through interactions with the students and teachers on Earth”, Xinhua reported. President Xi Jinping, who was at the launch in Gansu, met the three astronauts earlier on Tuesday. “You made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves,” Mr. Xi told them.