After a rumored period of uncertainty during which China’s Shenzhou 10 aircraft was on a “countdown hold” earlier this month, Beijing has launched its fifth manned spacecraft today from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 5:38 PM Beijing time. The Shenzhou 10 was sent into space 10 years after the nation’s first spacecraft entered space carrying three astronauts on board.
According to a report by the Xinhua News Agency, the three astronauts, Nie Haisheng and Zhan Xiaoguang, both male, and Wang Yaping, the only female, will travel in space for 15 days. They are to go through two docking tests and orbit the Chinese space lab Tiangong-1.
The astronauts' mission is to test current technologies for docking and supporting other astronauts space, in addition to testing new technology in hopes of developing a space station.
Wang, 33, will be the second female astronaut China has sent to space. Liu Yang being was the first female Chinese astronaut sent into space last year, and Yang will be the first female astronaut to enter space who was born in the 1980s. Prior to being selected as an astronaut in 2010, Wang served as a pilot. Joining her is Nie, a 48-year-old, and the commander of the spacecraft. This is Nie’s second trip to outer space. Nie's first time in space was in 2005 on the Shenzhou-6. The final member of the crew is Zhang, who, at 47, will make his first space journey.
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Communication with Earth has become very popular in China after social media-savvy Canadian astronaut Commander Christopher Hadfield keep in touch with Earth via Twitter and YouTube. According to Xinhua, aside from taking various technical and medical tests while in orbit, the three astronauts will also host a lecture to a group of students while in orbit.
“Through this event, we hope to bring the space program closer to the young generation, improve their understanding and attract their interest in our work,” Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China’s manned space program, said in a press briefing last week.
The date of the live broadcast from space has not been announced, as it will depend on the mission’s schedule.