China’s latest manned spacecraft blasted off yesterday on a 15-day mission to dock with a space lab and educate young people about science.
The Shenzhou 10 capsule carrying three astronauts lifted off as scheduled at 5:38pm from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi.
It is China’s fifth manned space mission and its longest. The spacecraft was launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket and will transport the crew to the Tiangong 1, which functions as an experimental prototype for a much larger Chinese space station to be launched in 2020. The craft will spend 12 days docked with the Tiangong.
On the heels of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s wildly popular YouTube videos from the International Space Station, the Chinese crew plans to deliver a series of talks to students from aboard the Tiangong.
The craft carried two men, mission commander Nie Haisheng (聶海勝) and Zhang Xiaoguang (張曉光), and China’s second female astronaut, Wang Yaping (王亞平).
Earlier in the afternoon, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was shown live on television wishing them well at the launch center.
“You have made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves,” Xi told the three astronauts. “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,” he said.
State television showed Xi watching the launch, as well as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), who was at the space command center in Beijing.
The space program is a source of enormous national pride for China, reflecting its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world’s leading nations. The space classrooms mark the boldest step so far to bring the program into the lives of ordinary Chinese and follows in the footsteps of NASA, which uses student outreach to inspire interest in space exploration and sustain support for its budgets.
At a news conference on Monday, Wang said she was “eager to explore and feel the magic and splendor of space with young friends.”
Zhang told reporters they would conduct dozens of space science experiments and would “enjoy personalized space foods especially designed by our nutritionists.”