JIUQUAN, China, June 16 (UPI) -- China's Shenzhou-9 spacecraft was launched into orbit Saturday, carrying three astronauts, including the country's first female astronaut, officials said.
The spacecraft, fired from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in western China, is to spend 20 days in space and dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, The New York Times reported.
The crew is to conduct experiments and live in the space module, which China launched in September.
China completed a docking of the Shenzhou 8 capsule with the space module by remote control in November.
The latest mission is China's first manned spaceflight since 2008, the Times said.
The female astronaut aboard Shenzhou-9, Liu Yang, is a 33-year-old air force pilot.
Liu, who is from central China's Henan province and now lives in Beijing with her husband, will be in charge of medical experiments during the mission, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Soviet Union sent the first woman into space in 1963, and the first American in space was Sally Ride in 1983.
China, which has spent billions of dollars in the past 10 years on its space program, sent its first man into space in 2003 and plans to put a man on the moon eventually.