Rocket blasts off carrying first Chinese crew to new space station

The first astronauts for China’s new space station blasted off Thursday for the country’s most extended crewed mission to date, a landmark step in establishing Beijing as a significant space power.

The trio launched on a Long March-2F rocket for the Tiangong station, where they will spend three months in a much-anticipated blast-off broadcast lives on state TV.

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Lift-off happened at 9:22 am (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China’s Gobi desert, with the rocket rising in clouds of smoke against a blue sky.

After about 10 minutes, it reached orbit and the spacecraft separated from the rocket to loud applause in the control room among rows of blue-suited engineers.

State broadcaster CCTV showed a live feed from inside the spacecraft, with the three astronauts lifting their helmet visors and smiling and waving at the camera.

Another floated a pen just off his lap in zero-gravity as he browsed the flight manual.

Cameras outside the craft broadcast live images of the Earth below.

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