China sent a crew of three into space on Saturday. The crew included Liu Yang, age 33, who is the country’s first female astronaut. The astronauts are in charge of carrying out their first manned docking mission, an important step in an ambitious plan to build a Chinese space station by 2020.
The successful launch of the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, powered by a Long March 2F rocket, was shown live on state television from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in western China.
The crew is expected to spend up to 20 days in space and dock with the orbiting Tiangong 1 space lab module, a kind of miniature space station, which China launched in September 2011.
The launch put China’s first woman into space, which “is an important leap forward for China’s manned space program,” said Wu Bangguo, the nation’s top legislator, speaking to the three astronauts before they took flight.
The goal, analysts say, is to dock with the space lab as practice for future dockings with the space station that China plans to build. (MZ)