New Delhi: China launched its most ambitious space mission on Saturday, sending along its first female astronaut to the final frontier and bidding to achieve the country`s first manual space docking Shenzhou-9.
China`s fourth manned space mission -- Shenzhou-9 was launched at 6:37 pm (1037 GMT) from the remote Gobi desert in the nation`s northwest. All systems functioned normally and, just over 10 minutes later, it opened its solar panels and entered orbit.
Major Liu Yang, a 33-year-old fighter pilot, joined two other astronauts headed by Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut who had gone to space twice already.
Two of the three astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems. However, the third will remain in the capsule to deal with any unexpected emergencies.
Astronauts attempted a manned docking for the first time with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, launched last September and part of China`s exploratory preparations for a space lab.
Speaking to the official Xinhua news agency, Liu said she "yearns to experience the wondrous, weightless environment of space, see the Earth and gaze upon the motherland".
"Thank you for the confidence put in my by the motherland and the people, for giving me this chance to represent China`s millions of women by going into space," Liu later told reporters at the Jiuquan launch center.
Medical experts who helped select the crew of the Shenzhou 9, have said that female astronauts must meet the same criteria as men, and then some, according to the China Daily.
Female Chinese astronauts must be married and preferably be mothers, the newspaper said, citing concerns that radiation would "harm their fertility".
Liu, from the poor and populous central province of Henan, has been praised in state media for her nerves of steel after safely landing her fighter jet after a bird strike that left the cockpit glass covered with blood.
China`s latest space mission has attracted even more than the usual national attention thanks to Liu`s presence.
Her selection to the mission team rapidly became the top subject on the country`s Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, with 33 million posts.
"Liu Yang, on the eve of becoming our first woman is space, is the pride of Henan," wrote one user.
(With Agency inputs)