A Shenzhou spacecraft carrying a crew of three, including China’s second female astronaut, streaked into orbit Tuesday at 5:38am EDT for a planned 15-day mission to practice docking with the country’s orbiting laboratory. The launch was broadcast live on Chinese state television from the Gobi desert and the craft made it successfully into orbit.
The launch marked the China’s fifth human space mission since 2003. The Tiangong 1 laboratory with which the spacecraft will dock was launched in September 2011. One thing that is interesting to note is that it will take the Chinese two days from liftoff to dock. Russia’s Soyux craft doxks with the International Space station just six hours after liftoff. Regardless about how quickly they can dock, China sees this as an initial step toward putting a full-fledged space station in orbit by 2020. China also plans to land on the moon and deploy a rover in the future, but there is no timetable for that mission just yet.