Skip to main content

Chinese spaceship blasts off from Gobi Desert

By Katie Hunt and Zhang Dayu, CNN
updated 9:01 PM EDT, Tue June 11, 2013
China's Shenzhou 10 rocket blasts off from the Gobi Desert in the city of Jiuquan, in China's Gansu province, on Tuesday, June 11. The craft is scheduled to dock with the Tiangong-1 space module, where the three crew members will transfer supplies to the space lab, which has been in orbit since September 2011. China's Shenzhou 10 rocket blasts off from the Gobi Desert in the city of Jiuquan, in China's Gansu province, on Tuesday, June 11. The craft is scheduled to dock with the Tiangong-1 space module, where the three crew members will transfer supplies to the space lab, which has been in orbit since September 2011.
HIDE CAPTION
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
China launches three into space
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This is China's fifth crewed space mission and is scheduled to last 15 days
  • It is the first high-profile launch since Xi Jinping became president in March
  • The mission seeks to test technology related to constructing a space station
  • China's march into space underscores its growing financial and military clout

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A Chinese spaceship blasted off Tuesday from a launch center in the Gobi Desert, carrying three astronauts on what is expected to be the Asian giant's longest crewed mission yet.

Propelled by a Long March-2F rocket, the Shenzhou 10 craft is scheduled to dock with the Tiangong-1 space module where the crew will transfer supplies to the space lab, which has been in orbit since September 2011.

China has stepped up the pace of its space program since first sending astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit in 2003. In 2012, it conducted 18 space launches, according to the Pentagon.

Read: Timeline: China's race into space

Tuesday's launch from the the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center marks the start of China's fifth crewed space mission.

Witnessing a Chinese rocket launch
China launches manned spacecraft
China unveils new space mission

Footage broadcast by state broadcaster CCTV showed the craft lift off from the Gobi's flat expanse and arrow into the empty blue sky. Officials at the launch center looked on as it gained altitude, gradually shedding stages of the rocket.

During its 15 days in orbit, the crew will master the rendezvous and docking capabilities that are essential for the operation of a manned space platform.

"The functionality, performance, and coordination of all systems will be evaluated during this mission," Wu Ping, a spokesperson for China's Manned Space Program, told a news conference on Monday ahead of the launch.

She added that another main objective of the mission was to test technologies related to the construction of a space station as China seeks to establish a long-term human presence in space.

The most recent crewed mission last year carried its first female astronaut and was the first to make a manual docking with the space module. The crew for this mission will also include a woman, Wang Yaping, and two male astronauts, Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang.

"These longer duration missions and space dockings are essential practice for any kind of long-term, more permanent presence in space or a mission to, say, the moon," said Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Growing power

China's march into space underscores the country's growing financial and military clout and has unsettled some Western observers.

A 92-page report on Chinese military development released by the Pentagon last month highlighted the advances in China's space capabilities.

"China is developing a multi-dimensional program to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict," the report said.

A spokeswoman for China's manned space missions said last year the program would cost a total of almost 40 billion yuan (US$6.27 billion).

The U.S. closed its space shuttle program in 2011 and is no longer aggressively pursuing manned space exploration, leaving Russia and China as the only two countries in the world capable of independently sending humans into space.

"In some ways, they have overtaken the US, at least temporarily," says the Heritage Foundation's Cheng. "Of course, the US, and even more Russia, have more experience in manned space. China is not, at this time, capable of reaching the Moon."

"But like the tortoise and the hare, China is slowly catching up with the US."

However, Cheng says that China is not engaged in a space race with the US. Rather: "They have a long-term plan, and they are sticking to it."

Private space ambitions

Companies like Boeing, Space X and Virgin Galactic are scrambling to develop private sector spacecraft and operate in what has previously been the exclusive preserve of sovereign nations.

China is not part of the project that maintains the International Space Station (ISS), which currently orbits the Earth conducting experiments in a range of fields, from physics to astronomy.

The ISS is a joint venture between NASA, Russia's RKA space agency, Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the Canadian CSA.

China views its multi-billion dollar space program as a way to raise prestige both domestically and abroad. This is the first high-profile space launch since new leader Xi Jinping assumed the presidency in March.

Public reaction to the planned mission was mixed, with some users of the Twitter-like Weibo platform wishing the astronauts well, while others said the resources were best used on the ground.

"Our country may be lagging behind in other areas, but China has great achievement in aerospace technology," said one user with the handle @Jiniaobieliulin.

"The government should spend more money to help those of lowest social status," said another user identified as @Xiaoxiaojuna.

Journalist Katie Hunt wrote and reported from Hong Kong, and CNN's Zhang Dayu reported from Beijing. CNN's Jethro Mullen in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT