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China successfully launches Shenzhou-12 manned crew into orbit

The Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-12, takes off from the launch site at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia, near Jiuquan, China, on Thursday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE
The Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-12, takes off from the launch site at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia, near Jiuquan, China, on Thursday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

June 16 (UPI) -- China on Thursday launched three astronauts into space on the Shenzhou-12 craft that will later in the day dock with Beijing's new space station.

The Long March-2F rocket successfully lifted off on schedule at 9:22 a.m. local time from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, state-run CGTN reported.

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"Into the Space!" cheered Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, via Twitter shortly after the launch. "[Shenzhou-12] has been successfully launched. History will remember this day,"

The three Chinese astronauts onboard -- flight commander Nie Haisheng, 57, and his crew, Liu Boming, 55, and Tang Hongbo, 46 -- are to later in the day rendezvous and then dock with the Tianhe core module of the space station to become another part of the orbital that is currently being constructed.

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The trip from launch to dock is expected to take 6-and-a-half hours, China's The Global Times reported.

According to CGTN, after docking, they will move into the core module where they will live and work in low-Earth orbit for three months before returning aboard the re-entry capsule to the Dongfeng landing site.

Space station Taingong, which translates to Heavenly Palace, will become the second long-term orbital alongside the International Space Station and is intended to be used by China's space program as an orbiting laboratory, The New York Times reported.

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It is expected to be completed following about 10 launches over the next two years with Thursday's launch being the first manned mission to the station.

China had launched the core module into space at the end of April. The rocket used to put the module into orbit prompted international concern over a 10-day period as it fell uncontrolled back to Earth. The booster eventually re-entered Earth's atmosphere and debris from it crashed into the Indian Ocean on May 9.

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