China established its longest manned space mission on Monday, sending two astronauts into orbit to spend a month aboard an space laboratory that is part of a broader strategy to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
The Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 7:30 am (07:30 p.m. EDT) from the distant launching site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in pictures carried live on state television.
It will be the longest stay in space by astronauts that were Chinese, state media reported.
Early on Monday, Fan Changlong, wished them well and a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, met astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“You’re going to travel in space to pursue the space vision of the Chinese state,” Fan said.
“With all the scientific and rigorous training, unobtrusive prep, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and demanding task… We wish you success and look forward to your own triumphant return.”
Shenzhou 11 is the third space voyage for Jing, who observe his 50th birthday in orbit and will control the mission.
In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent in orbit and docked.
Improving China’s space program is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself.
Shenzhou 11, whose name translates as “Divine Vessel”, will also carry three experiments designed by Hong Kong middle school pupils and chosen in a science contest, including one that may take silk worms into space.
The U.S. Defense Department has emphasized China’s raising space abilities, saying it was pursuing actions aimed at preventing other countries using space-based assets in a disaster.
China is working to develop its space program for scientific, commercial and military functions, but is still playing catchup to space powers that are established the United States and Russia.
China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the moon in late 2013 to national fanfare that was amazing, but soon suffered severe technical issues.
The rover and the Chang’e 3 probe that taken it there were the first “soft landing” on the moon since 1976. The Soviet Union and both the Usa had accomplished the feat before.
China will launch a “core module” for its first space station some time around 2018, a senior official said in April, part of a plan for a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.