A rocket carrying two Chinese astronauts blasted off Wednesday from a space-vehicle launching site in China's desert northwest, returning the country's manned space program to orbit two years after its history-making first flight.
The second Chinese manned spaceflight, reportedly due to last up to five days, is part of ambitious efforts by the communist government to declare its status as a rising world power with technological triumphs to match its rapid economic growth. It is only the third country to launch a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.
The Long March rocket carrying astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng lifted off at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) from the heavily guarded Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
In a sign of official confidence, the communist government broke with the military-run space program's usual secrecy and showed the launch live on state television.
Images of Fei and Nie in their cockpit as the craft roared toward orbit were broadcast live to hundreds of millions of Chinese television viewers. "Feeling pretty good," Fei said in the first broadcast comment from the astronauts.
The capsule entered its preset orbit 23 minutes after launch, the government announced.
State television showed Chinese President Hu Jintao watching the liftoff from a command center in Beijing, while Premier Wen Jiabao was on hand at the launch base.
"We await your triumphant return! Good-bye!" a technician at mission control told the astronauts minutes before the liftoff, reports the AP.
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