China has launched its most ambitious space mission yet in which its first female astronaut and two male colleagues are to attempt to dock with an orbiting module.
The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled at 6:37 p.m. (1237 GMT) on Saturday evening from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
Female astronaut Liu Yang,33,and two male crew members _ veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang _ are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step toward building a permanent space station. They are to work there for about a week.
China first launched a man into space in 2003 followed by a two-man mission in 2005 and a three-man trip in 2008.