China on Monday successfully launched a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, in its longest-ever manned space mission, who would later join its experimental space lab orbiting the Earth as the country moved a step closer to establish its permanent space station by 2022.
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, 50, and Chen Dong, 37, were blasted off into space by Shenzhou-11 (heavenly vessel) spacecraft at 7:30 am local time (5 am IST) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre near the Gobi Desert in northwest China.
The spacecraft, called Shenzhou-11, is to dock with an orbiting space laboratory launched last month.
The astronauts are expected to stay in the Tiangong-2 lab for 30 days before returning to Earth, the deputy director of China's Manned Space Agency, , said before the launch.
President Xi Jinping, congratulated everyone engaged in the mission for the successful launch, saying it is a milestone in China's space programme.
The main tasks in the space lab will include testing computers, as well as propulsion and life support systems and other experiments.
The activities in the lab are intended to help China reach its goal of launching a more permanent space station, Tianhe-1, in 2018.
The target date for sending an astronaut to the moon is 2025.
This year is the 46th anniversary of China's space program, which has bolstered its spending in the past decade in an effort to catch up with the United States and Russia.
The Chinese word for Shenzhou means "heavenly vessel," and Tiangong means "heavenly palace.
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