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China Launches Three Into Space Aboard Shenzhou-10

Taikonauts will dock with space station component, lecture students.

(AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

China's Shenzhou-10 spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan space centre in the Gobi Desert, June 11, 2013.

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The Chinese government successfully launched three "taikonauts" into space Tuesday, in the country's fifth manned space launch since 2003.

Aboard the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft are two men – Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang – and one woman, Wang Yaping.

The manned capsule was launched by a Long March-2F rocket around 5:38 p.m. local time, with eager live blogging on social networks and by the media.

Chinese President Xi Jingping, who returned to China Sunday after a meeting with President Barack Obama in California, was on site at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert south of Mongolia to wish the travelers luck.

"The mission's members carry a space dream of the Chinese nation, and represent the lofty aspirations of the Chinese people to explore space," Xi said at a ceremony, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

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"On behalf of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the State Council, the Central Military Commission, as well as people of all ethnic backgrounds across the country, I'm here to see you off," the leader added. "You made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves."

The Shenzhou-10 crew intends to dock with the experimental Tiangong 1 space station module during their 15-day mission. China launched that space station component in 2011 and intends to create a full-fledged space station by 2020. Since the 2001 demise Russia's space station, Mir, the International Space Station has been mankind's only permanent residence in space.

In addition to docking with Tiangong 1, the three crew members "will carry out outer space seminar activities for teenagers for the first time," according to The People's Daily.

After its mission, the Shenzhou-10 is expected to land somewhere in Inner Mongolia.

The first Chinese man sent into space was Yang Liwei, who orbited Earth aboard the Shenzhou-5 in 2003. The country's first woman in space was Liu Yang, who was part of the Shenzhou-9's crew in 2012. In addition to China, only the U.S. and Russian governments have independent space programs that have launched astronauts into space.

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