China marked nearly a decade of manned spaceflight with the June 11 launch of the Shenzhou-10 mission. As reported by Xinhuanet, the 7,840 kg (17,284 lb) craft with a crew of three lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s LC43 Launch Complex at 17:38 Beijing time (09:38 GMT) atop a Long March 2F rocket on its way to rendezvous with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab.
This is the first Chinese manned mission since the Shenzhou-9 was launched on June 16, 2012 and with a 15-day duration it is the longest that China has attempted. The commander is Nie Haisheng, a 48-year-old fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, who flew previously on Shenzhou-6 in 2005. The rest of the crew are Zhang Xiaoguang, another PLAAF fighter pilot and former PLAAF cargo plane pilot Wang Yaping, who is China’s second female astronaut.
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Derived from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the Shenzhou-10 is scheduled to dock with Tiangong-1 on June 13 after a 40-hour flight to its orbital altitude of 335 km (208 miles). Tiangong-1 is a precursor to China’s permanently manned station that it hopes to build by the end of the decade.
The space lab is nearing the end of its two-year service life, so this will be the last mission to it. Once at the lab, the crew will carry out scientific experiments and two docking operations, one manual and one automatic. In addition, Wang will beam back lessons for schoolchildren from orbit