China on Saturday launched its fourth and biggest manned space mission ever. The latest mission is record-breaking for two reasons: one, it is the biggest space mission yet for China; two, the mission marks the first time a female Chinese astronaut was sent off to space.
The country's first female astronaut, fighter pilot Liu Yang, is now aboard Shenzhou-9 to make China's first manual space docking. Liu is joined by two other pilots in the mission.
Space experts across the world shared their views about the grand event.
China's Space Mission: Experts weigh in
China's latest venture in space is proof positive that the country is determined to advance its space research and invest in its endeavors as much as the United States and Russia do, according to analysts.
"This is China's most ambitious space mission so far. It is longer and more complex than anything previously done... It shows that China is serious about its long-term goals in space," said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert.
"Manned flights are firstly a matter of prestige and a nod to Chinese citizens... It's obvious that China, which is absent from the International Space Station, wants to demonstrate that it is capable of independently doing something similar," Professor Rene Oosterlinck from the European Space Agency told AFP.
"It's a wonderful thing that has happened... Essentially, they are making sure that they are going ahead systematically with manned mission programme," said UR Rao, ex-Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation.
China: Space Mission 2020
The manual space docking entails utmost accuracy in the operations, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space programme. If successful, China could establish its own space station by 2020.
"I believe that we can achieve this goal, because we already have the basic technological capability," Zhou Jianping, China's chief designer for manned space missions, told reporters before the launch.
Shenzhou-9 blasted off from the Jiuquan space base in Gobi desert on June 16.
China's Sequence of Space Missions
1999 - Shenzhou-1, unmanned mission
2001 - Shenzhou-2, small animals on board
2003 - first Chinese man, Yang Liwei, sent into space
2012 - astronauts will manually control the space docking
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