| A Long March CZ-2F rocket carrying the manned craft Shenzhou V is launched into space from Jiuquan, Inner Mongolia. (AFP)
Beijing, Oct. 15 (Reuters): China put its first man in space today, sending a single astronaut on a 21-hour odyssey around the Earth, four decades after the Soviet Union and the US pioneered manned space flight.
The Long March 2F rocket carrying astronaut Yang Liwei lifted off into a clear blue sky over the Gobi desert at 0100 GMT and entered its predetermined orbit 10 minutes later. Official media quickly declared the launch a success.
“I feel good,” Yang said from space as the Shenzhou V, or “Divine Ship V”, was making its first circuit around the Earth.
The official Xinhua news agency said by late afternoon the vessel was in its sixth of 14 planned orbits and had successfully shifted its course prior to landing early tomorrow.
Yang, 38, is part of a historic mission which, if successful, will make China just the third nation to put a man into space and bring him back to Earth — over 40 years behind the former Soviet Union and the US.
At the Jiuquan Space Centre in Inner Mongolia onlookers clapped and cheered as the Shenzhou V lifted off. About 1,600 km away in the capital, pride mixed with relief as state television broadcast delayed pictures of the launch.
Shenzhou V gave a boost to the leaders of the world’s most populous nation. President Hu Jintao, who witnessed the lift-off, spoke of the “glory of our great motherland”.
“We look forward to your triumphant return,” Hu said.
The launch highlighted the emerging power of China, a permanent UN Security Council member now pursuing more active diplomacy, one of the world’s fastest growing economies and chosen host of the 2008 Olympics.
“It is a show of muscle, a show of power to the region,” said Tai Hui, an economist with Standard Chartered in Hong Kong, playing down the economic significance.
Yang, who follows a trail blazed by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and American astronaut Alan Shepard in 1961, was due to orbit the Earth 14 times and touch down in Inner Mongolia, Xinhua said.
In the US, Nasa administrator Sean ’Keefe said the launch was an important achievement.