China last Saturday sent three astronauts, including its first female astronaut Liu Yang, into space for the nation's manned space docking mission.
Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, atop an upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket, blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gobi dessert at 6:37 p.m. last Saturday.
Shenzhou-9 will complete an automated docking procedure with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module in two days. The astronauts will then attempt a manual docking which is considered as a major step forward in China's manned space program to build a space station around 2020.
About 20 minutes after the ignition, commander-in-chief of China's manned space program Chang Wanquan announced the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft had accurately entered its orbit and the launch was successful.
President Hu Jintao, who is in Denmark for a state visit, said in a congratulatory letter that he was very glad to hear the success of launching Shenzhou-9 and "would like to extend warm congratulations and sincere regards to all those participating in the research and tests (of the country's space program)."
Wu Bangguo, the country's top legislator, attended a see-off ceremony at the launch center before the launch, which makes China the third country in the world to send a female citizen into space using its own technology.
Hundreds of people, including tourists, invited guests and relatives of the staff at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, watched the launch from 1.5 kilometers away, along with numerous others in front of TV.
The launch also stirred sensation in the cyberspace, with social networking sites and online forums flooded with countless blessings and congratulatory messages.
Liu Yang, 33, is joined by commanding officer Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, a former air force pilot who has been selected as an astronaut trainee since January 1998.
Live televised footage showed the astronauts inside the capsule were quite calm and a giant red Chinese character Fu, which means good fortune, was seen in the capsule.
A manual docking, if successful, will demonstrate a grasp of essential space rendezvous and docking know-how. China succeeded in the automated space docking between Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 last year.
Liu Yang, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) major, was a PLA Air Force pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience and deputy head of a military flight unit before being recruited as an astronaut candidate in May 2010.
After two years of training, which shored up her astronautic skills and adaptability to space environment, Liu excelled in testing and was selected in March this year for the Shenzhou-9 manned space mission.
"Female astronauts generally have better durability, psychological stability and ability to deal with loneliness," said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space program.
More than 50 female astronauts from seven countries have gone into space to date. The longest space flight by female astronauts lasted 188 days.
Wu believed a female astronaut would showcase Chinese women's good image and further promote social influence of the manned space program.