Under bright-blue morning skies, China launched its first crewed space mission in five years Thursday, sending three science-minded military pilots rocketing to a new orbiting station they’re expected to reach around midafternoon.
The astronauts, already wearing their spacesuits, were seen off by space officials, other uniformed military personnel and a crowd of children waving flowers and flags and singing patriotic songs. The three gave final waves to a crowd of people waving flags, then entered the elevator to take them to the spaceship at the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China.
The astronauts are traveling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket that blasted off shortly after the target time of 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) with near-perfect visibility at the launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
The two veteran astronauts and a newcomer making his first space flight are scheduled to stay three months in the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, conducting experiments, testing equipment and preparing the station for expansion before two laboratory modules are launched next year.