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China Launches Two Astronauts in Second Space Mission

The spacecraft Shenzhou 6 blasted off from the Gobi desert in northern China on a planned five-day mission.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao wished the two astronauts, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, well, saying he was confident they “will accomplish the glorious and sacred mission,” China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.

The two astronauts are expected to perform a series of experiments to advance China’s understanding of human spaceflight, according to Space.com.

The spaceflight came nearly two years to the day since China sent its first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into space on a 21-and-a-half-hour mission on Oct. 15, 2003.

China is the third country after Russia and the United States to launch a person into space on its own.

Fei, 40, and Nie, 41, colonels in the People’s Liberation Army, were selected from 14 fighter pilots and had been in training since the 2003 mission, Reuters reported.

“There is nothing to worry about,” state television, which aired the launch live, quoted the pair as saying after blast off. “We will accomplish the mission resolutely. See you in Beijing.”

“I feel good,” Fei said minutes later. Television showed the two men flipping through flight manuals and pressing buttons on computer screens.

The Shenzhou, or “Divine Vessel,” is based on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft developed in the late 1960s and still in use today, and is set to touch down in the remote northern region of Inner Mongolia on Monday, according to Reuters.

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