China has launched its latest space mission, with the country's second-ever female astronaut aboard a vessel that is set to dock with a prototype space station. The crew plan to deliver a talk from space for students.
The Long March 2F rocket - carrying three astronauts - lifted off from the Jiuquan space center in the Gobi Desert at 5:38 p.m. local time (0938 GMT) on Tuesday.
The blast-off began China's fifth space mission, set to be the country's longest scheduled manned mission so far.
The three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-10, which means "divine vessel," include 33-year-old Wang Yaping - China's second woman in space - as well as another first-time astronaut, Zhang Xiaoguang, and mission flight commander Nie Haisheng.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the civilian and military leaders who were present at the launch site in China's far west. Prime Minister Li Keqiang watched from a space command center in Beijing.
"You have made Chinese people feel proud," Xi told the space-suited astronauts through a glass screen ahead of the launch. "You have trained and prepared yourselves carefully and thoroughly, so I am confident in your completing the mission successfully. I wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return."
Applause at mission control
Both the crew and mission control reported a successful initial phase after lift-off, with applause at the base as the capsule deployed its solar panels.
The Shenzhou-10 capsule is scheduled to remain in orbit for a little over two weeks. For 12 days, the capsule is to stay docked with the Tiangong 1 ("heavenly palace") space station - a prototype of a much larger space station that China plans to launch in 2020.
Once-paired, the plan is for the two vessels to be used as a space laboratory, from which Wang is to deliver a physics lesson to students. In a news conference on Monday, Wang said she was "eager to explore and feel the magic and splendor of space with young friends."
Among the other tasks of the crew are to complete is the testing of "new technologies for the construction of the space station."
China aims to join the United States and Russia as only the third country to send independently maintained space stations into orbit. The country is already part of an exclusive club of three nations that have launched manned spacecraft on their own.
rc/pfd (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)