Beijing, June 16 (IANS) China launched its Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with the country's first female astronaut aboard Saturday.
Shenzhou-9, atop an upgraded carrier rocket -- Long March-2F, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China at 6.37 p.m., China Daily reported.
According to Xinhua, hours ahead of the scheduled launch, a see-off ceremony was held at the centre and attended by Wu Bangguo, the country's top legislator who extended his best wishes to the three astronauts.
"The country and the people are looking forward to your successful return," he said.
The first Chinese woman in space Liu Yang, 33, is joined by commanding officer Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. She was selected as an astronaut trainee in January 1998.
The main tasks of the Shenzhou-9 mission will include the manual docking procedure conducted between the Shenzhou-9 and the orbiting space lab module Tiangong-1.
Last year, China succeeded in the automated rendezvous and docking between the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1.
A successful manual docking would demonstrate a grasp of essential space rendezvous and docking know-how, which is a big step in the country's manned space programme to build a space station around 2020.
Liu Yang was a PLA Air Force pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience and deputy head of a military flight unit before being recruited as an astronaut candidate in May 2010.
She received two years of training, which shored up her astronautic skills and adaptability to space environment.
Liu excelled in testing and was selected this March as a candidate for the Shenzhou-9 manned space mission.
Over 50 women astronauts from seven countries have gone into the space till date. The longest space flight by female astronauts lasted 188 days.