China launches 'Shenzhou-12', its first manned mission in 5 years
China has launched the Shenzhou-12, boosting its space programme to compete with the United States.
Shenzhou-12, which means "Divine Vessel," took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 01:22 GMT on Thursday, according to live video carried by official television, CCTV.
A Long March-2F carrier rocket was used for the launch.
Three male astronauts : Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo boarded the spacecraft.
As Shenzhou passed the Earth's atmosphere and following a critical separation of the four rockets, two of the three astronauts gave an "OK" hand signal on CCTV live video.
According to news reports, Chen Shanguang, deputy head of China's human space programme, said, "The flight was totally smooth."
“This is the first step. There will be more difficulties ahead.” he continued.
The astronauts will spend three months in orbit, stationed in the core module.