China successfully launched the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which carries a crew of three, including the country's first female astronaut Liu Yang, at 6:37 pm today.
The astronauts would complete the country's first manned docking mission, an important step in China's ambitious plan to build a space station by 2020.
The successful launch, from a remote desert in western China, powered by a Long March 2F rocket, was televised live from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in western China.
The crew would spend around 20 days in space, docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a kind of miniature space station, which China launched in September 2011. The crew would conduct experiments and live for a time in the space module.
China has spent billions of dollars in the last decade to drive its space ambitions to rival the US and Russia and has plans to eventually put a man on the moon, perhaps by 2016.
China sent its first man into space in 2003, and a Chinese astronaut did a space walk in 2008. The manned docking would be considered a milestone for China's space programme and the third major step in its development. In November, China completed a remote-controlled docking with the coupling of the Shenzhou 8 with the Tiangong 1 orbital module, an event that was broadcast live on national television and was observed by prime minister Wen Jiabao from the control centre in Beijing.