China has sent its first woman into orbit.
33-year-old Liu Yang is one of three astronauts who will attempt a critical docking as part of the country’s ambitious space programme.
This is China’s fourth manned space mission over the past decade. It comes as the United States has curtailed such launches amid financial constraints and shifting priorities.
The astronauts will try to dock with the orbiting Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module launched last year.
The mission is crucial to China’s ambition to put a space station in orbit around 2020.
The rocket blasted off from a remote launch site in the northwestern Gobi Desert, carrying with it the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft and the astronauts.
A successful docking mission would be a demonstration of China’s progress in space, although it is still playing catch-up with the US and Russia.