A Chinese rocket carrying three taikonauts lifted off Tuesday to begin a 15-day mission. The mission is China's next step toward building a space station.
Three Chinese taikonauts lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province for a 15-day mission that will take them to China's experimental lab module Tiangong 1, which orbits some 210 miles above Earth.
The mission is the longest yet for the Chinese human spaceflight program and the first truly operational – and final – mission for Tiangong 1. The crew will test new docking maneuvers as they arrive, then perform experiments and hold a live lecture from space for students in China.
The launch, which took place at 5:38 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, went flawlessly, with the crew reaching orbit about nine minutes later. If all goes well, the crew aboard the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft should reach the lab module on Thursday.
Shenzhou 10 represents China's fifth human-spaceflight mission in 10 years – a more methodical pace than the US and the former Soviet Union pursued during the Cold War.