China launches fifth manned spacecraft

June 11, 2013 at 7:18 AM

BEIJING, June 11 (UPI) -- China successfully launched its fifth manned spacecraft Tuesday with three astronauts aboard, the commander of China's manned space program said.

The Shenzhou-10, mounted atop an upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, Tuesday, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

Minutes after the launch the spacecraft headed into its designated orbit with two male and one female astronaut aboard.

Among those attending the launch ceremony was Chinese President Xi Jinping, recently returned from a visit to the United States.

"The mission members carry a space dream of the Chinese nation and represent the lofty aspirations of the Chinese people to explore space," Xi said.

During its 15-day journey the spacecraft will dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-1 twice, once automatically and once manually.

Program spokeswoman Wu Ping told a news conference the three aboard the craft include Wang Yaping, a female. The other two are men, Commander Nie Haisheng and and senior air force pilot Zhang Xiaoguang.

Wu said the latest mission will further test technologies of docking and supporting astronauts' stay in space, as well as use new technologies related to the construction of a space station, she said.

China sent its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space in 2003 and since then, country has pursued an active space program.

CNN, quoting the Pentagon, said there were 19 Chinese space launches last year.

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