China’s manned spacecraft Shenzhou 11 blasts off

Beijing, Oct 17 (IANS) China on Monday launched manned spacecraft Shenzhou-11 into orbit in a project designed to develop its ability to explore space.

The spacecraft, launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, has two male astronauts on board — Jing Haipeng, 49, who has already been in space twice, and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

Their spacecraft, Shenzhou-11, took off from at 7.30 local time on Monday, lifted by a Long March-2F rocket.

They will dock with the experimental Tiangong 2 space lab and spend 30 days there, the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, BBC reported.

This and previous launches are seen as pointers to possible crewed missions to the Moon or Mars.

China plans to expand the experimental Tiangong 2 space lab over the next few years by sending up additional modules. It is expected to be fully operational by 2022.

China became the third country — after Russia and the US — to carry out its own crewed space missions.