China launched its longest manned space mission on Monday, sending two astronauts (taikonauts) into orbit to spend a month aboard a space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
According to Reuters, the Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 7:30 am (2330 GMT) from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in images carried live on state television.
The astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, which was sent into space last month. It will be the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, state media reported.
Early on Monday, Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, met astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong and wished them well, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation,” Fan said.
“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.”
Shenzhou 11 is the third space voyage for Jing, who will command the mission and celebrate his 50th birthday in orbit.
In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with a space laboratory, the Tiangong 1.