China Sends Astronauts To Nation's Longest Space Mission In History

China just launched Shenzhou-11 today from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

The exact time of the launch, as reported by Spaceflight Now, was at 2330:31 GMT or 7:30:31 a.m. in Beijing time. The mission will last for 33 days making it China's longest space mission ever.

According to New York Times, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong make up the two-man crew of the Shenzhou-11. This is the third spaceflight of Jing and the first for Chen.

In an interview with Xinhua, the official news agency of China, Jing said that "it is any astronaut's dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions."

General Zhang Youxia, called the launch a success after the Shenzhou-11 left Earth's atmosphere without any problems. It was reported before the launch that the weather conditions were favorable with the temperature somewhere around 43 degrees Fahrenheit.

The spacecraft is expected to dock on the Tiangong-2 space lab after two days. The space lab which is 244 miles or 393 kilometers above the Earth was launched just last month.

Jing and Chen will conduct several tests and activities in the space lab as part of the country's objective of launching the Tianhe-1 in 2018. The Tianhe-1 is the core module for their first modular space station.

The 11th Shenzhou mission is the 13th launch of a Long March 2F rocket. It also marked the sixth time that a manned Chinese spacecraft was sent to orbit. This is the 15th space launch conducted by China in 2016 alone. The Shenzou-11 predecessor, Shenzhou-10, was launched in 2013.

China's space program celebrated its 46th anniversary this year. They are planning to send an unmanned rover to Mars in 2020 and the first Chinese astronaut to the moon by 2025.

Shenzhou means "heavenly vessel" while Tiangong translates to "heavenly palace". Tianhe, meanwhile, stands for "Milky Way".

The launch was broadcast live over CCTV, the country's predominant TV broadcaster.

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