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Chinese crew to space station

The first astronauts for China’s new space station blasted off Thursday for the country’s longest crewed mission to date, a landmark step in establishing Beijing as a major space power.

The trio launched on a Long March-2F rocket for the Tiangong station, where they will spend three months, in a much-anticipated blast-off broadcast live on state TV.

Lift-off happened at 9:22 am (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China’s Gobi desert, with the rocket rising in clouds of smoke against a blue sky.

After about 10 minutes it reached orbit and the space craft separated from the rocket, to loud applause in the control room among rows of blue-suited engineers.

State broadcaster CCTV showed a live feed from inside the spacecraft, with the three astronauts lifting their helmet visors and one smiling and waving at the camera.

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