China Launches 15-Day Manned Space Mission

China launched a manned space mission Tuesday, continuing its ambitious goal of building its own space station. Among the many tasks to be undertaken during the 15-day flight, the astronauts will lead lectures from space to educate Chinese students.

China launched the manned Shenzhou-10 spacecraft from a satellite launch center in the Gobi desert. The space craft is carrying two men and one woman and will travel through space for 15 days.

Chinese president Xi Jinping met with the astronauts before take off. 

Xi said the astronauts made Chinese people feel very proud. He said the mission is glorious and sacred. He said he is confident the crew will complete the mission successfully and he looks forward to the astronauts' triumphant return. 

The spacecraft will go through two docking tests with the orbiting space lab module Tiangong 1. One test will be automatic, and the other manual. Astronauts will also perform tests on the station's life support systems. The Tiangong serves as a prototype for a larger space station China plans to launch in 2020. 

Chinese astronauts (from left) Wang Yaping, Zhang Xiaoguang and Nie Haisheng wave before leaving for the Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft mission at a satellite launch center in Jiuquan, Gansu Province on June 11, 2013. /Reuters Chinese astronauts (from left) Wang Yaping, Zhang Xiaoguang and Nie Haisheng wave before leaving for the Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft mission at a satellite launch center in Jiuquan, Gansu Province on June 11, 2013. /Reuters

The astronauts will also deliver a series of talks to primary and middle school students from aboard the Tiangong. Chinese state media reports the lectures will focus on physics.  NASA has long used student outreach as a means of inspiring support for the U.S. space program. 

Morris Jones, an Australian space analyst, said China's expanding space program is part of an effort to show the Chinese people, and the world, the country's rising power. 

"If it wants to be a super power class nation, that developing a very strong space program is one way it can project that image both internally and externally to the outside world," he said.

China was prevented from taking part in the International Space Station, in part, because of U.S. objections over the space program's link to China's military. China's future space station will weigh 60 tons and be about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station.

"It really shows the transformation in China over the last decade. China is now so very different from where it was just a decade ago," said Stephen Noerper, an East Asia analyst with the New York-based Korean Society. "It's grown so very much in its economic prowess, in terms of its political importance, and in terms of its technical capabilities, that it makes things like this next step in space very much significant and an important sign of where China stands in terms of its role as an emerging global player."

The space mission's crew includes China's second female astronaut to travel into space.  Wang Yaping is also China's first astronaut born in the 1980s. State-run media reports say she grew up in a farming family in China's Shandong Province before being selected as an astronaut in 2010.

VOA News / Jun. 12, 2013 08:16 KST