China has sent two astronauts into space to spend a month in a space laboratory as part of its plan to set up a permanent manned space station starting from around 2022.
The manned spaceflight Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northern China at 7.30am local time (7.30am Singapore time). This is China's longest manned space mission.
According to Reuters, the astronauts will couple with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory or "Heavenly Palace 2" in space and spend 30 days there, the longest stay in space by any Chinese astronauts.
"Heavenly Palace 2" was launched on 15 September 2016 with the intention to make it a testbed for key technologies that will later be used for a large modular space station in China.
According to Xinhua news agency, the astronauts were Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong. Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of China's powerful Central Military Commission met the astronauts on Monday to wish them good luck.
"You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation...With all the scientific and rigorous training, discreet preparation, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and tough task... We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return," said Fan, according to the news agency.
For astronaut Jing Haipeng, Shenzhou 11 is the third space voyage and he will command the mission and celebrate his 50th birthday in space.
In a statement carried by state media, President Xi Jinping congratulated the astronauts and said he hoped they "vigorously advance the spirit of space travel".
He also said the mission would "enable China to take larger and further steps in space exploration and make new contributions to building up China as a space power," as mentioned in the statement.
While on board, the astronauts will carry out several experiments including testing of plant growth in space and own body testing by using ultrasound equipment, reported the news agency.
In 2013, a manned space mission carrying three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with the Tiangong 1 space laboratory. China is also likely to launch a "core module" for its first space station sometime around 2018.
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