China was to launch its longest-ever manned space mission Tuesday, with its second woman astronaut among the crew, as it steps up its ambitious space programme, a symbol of the country’s growing power.
President Xi Jinping arrived at the Jiuquan launch centre in the Gobi desert to watch the lift-off of Shenzhou-10—the name means “Divine Vessel”—due at 0938 GMT.
Beijing sees the multi-billion-dollar space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as the ruling Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The programme is heavily promoted to the domestic audience, and state broadcaster CCTV began continuous coverage several hours before the launch.
Xi told the three astronauts, who include female air force pilot Wang Yaping, 33, and are due to spend 15 days in space, that he had come to see them off on behalf of the Communist Party, the government, the military and “all the nationalities and people of the entire nation”.
“You make all the Chinese people feel proud. Your mission is both glorious and sacred”, he added.
Mission commander Nie Haisheng responded: “We will certainly obey orders, comply with commands, be steady and calm, work with utmost care and perfectly complete the Shenzhou-10 mission.”
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