China's astronauts Liu Yang, Liu Wang, and Jing Haipeng (l-r)
JIUQUAN, China (AP) -- China has launched its most ambitious space mission yet in which its first female astronaut and two male colleagues are to attempt to dock with an orbiting module.
The Shenzhou 9 capsule lifted off as scheduled Saturday evening from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert. All systems functioned normally and, just over 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit.
Female astronaut Liu Yang, 33, and two male crew members - veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng and newcomer Liu Wang - are to dock the spacecraft with a prototype space lab launched last year in a key step toward building a permanent space station. They are to work there for about a week.
China first launched a man into space in 2003 followed by a two-man mission in 2005 and a three-man trip in 2008.