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China Launches Crew Into Space, Starting 15-Day Mission

China successfully launched its Shenzhou-10 spacecraft Tuesday, sending its three crew members into orbit on a Long March-2F carrier rocket. The astronauts are expected to dock with an orbiting lab, the Tiangong-1; their mission will last 15 days.

"Today, the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft has been successfully launched and precisely put into the orbit, which means that our country's fifth manned space mission has succeeded in the first phase," President Xi Jinping said Tuesday afternoon, as he congratulated the space program's staff, reports the official Xinhua news agency.

China's leaders and media outlets are calling the launch the next step in China's "space dream," which began in earnest 10 years ago with the country's first manned spaceflight. China hopes to establish its own space station by 2020.

The Shenzhou-10 took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, a remote site in the Gobi Desert in western China. It will dock with the Tiangong-1 ("Heavenly Palace-1"), a lab module that was launched in 2011.

The astronauts, two men and one woman, will "deliver science lectures to students on Earth through a live video feed system while in orbit," Xinhua reports.

"The Party and the people will never forget the prominent achievements made by all the comrades for the nation's space undertakings," President Xi said Tuesday.

As NPR's Korva Coleman reported for The Two Way last summer, China sent its first female astronaut into space on a similar mission last June.

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