China has launched the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft on Monday, Oct. 17, for its longest manned mission on space.
Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March 2F launch rocket from the the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert at 7:30 a.m. (07:30 p.m. EDT) carrying two astronauts into orbit. The taikonauts, as Chinese astronauts are called, will spend 30 days aboard the experimental Tiangong 2 space laboratory, in what to date would be the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts.
The mission and earlier launches are considered parts of a broader plan by China to set up a permanent manned station in space around the year 2022 as well as provide pointers for possible manned mission to the Moon or even planet Mars.
The Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or "Heavenly Palace 2" that will serve as home for the two astronauts for the next month, was launched into space just last month. It could be the only operational space station in the world once the International Space Station retires by 2024.
"You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation," Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, told taikonauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong during a meeting early on Monday. "We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return."
The mission would mark the third spaceflight for mission commander Jing Haipeng, who will also celebrate his 50th birthday in orbit. It is first the space mission for flight engineer Chen Dong.
China's human space program chief commander Zhang Youxia called the launch of the spacecraft successful.
"The rocket is flying according to its original plan and the Shenzhou spacecraft has entered into its preliminary orbit," Zhang Youxia said. "The solar panel has been unfolded and the crew is in great condition. Hereby I announce the launch of Shenzhou-11 is a complete success."
Shenzhou 11, which means "Divine Vessel", also carries three experiments that were designed by middle school students in Hong Kong. The experiments, which include one that involves taking silk worms into space, were selected in a science competition.
China is the third country in the world after Russia and the U.S. to conduct a crewed space mission. In 2013, the country successfully landed the Jade Rabbit rover on the moon albeit the probe later suffered severe technical difficulties. China has lately been working on its space program for commercial, military and scientific purposes.