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UPDATED: October 10, 2011 NO. 41 OCTOBER 13, 2011
A New Start
China's first unmanned space lab module launched successfully

UP, UP, UP: A Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket carrying theTiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province on September 29 (WANG JIANMIN)

Designed to serve as a platform for China's future spacecraft to rendezvous and dock with in outer space, China's first module of its planned space station, Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, blasted off at 21:16 Beijing Time (13:16 GMT) on September 29 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province.

More than 10 minutes after the blastoff, Chang Wanquan, Commander in Chief of China's manned space program, announced the launch's success at the control center in Beijing.

The success of the launch, however, is just a beginning, and the real challenge is docking in space, said Yang Hong, the chief designer of the Tiangong module series.

The unmanned module will test docking in space later this year, paving the way for China to operate a permanent space station around 2020. This will make it the world's third country to do so.

After watching the launch from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center, President Hu Jintao called on the engineers, commanders and other workers participating in China's manned space program to carry out every activity in a "more careful and meticulous" manner to ensure the success of the country's first space docking mission.

The other top Chinese leaders—Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang—all members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, observed the launch in Beijing and Jiuquan.

Zhang Shancong, deputy chief designer of the Tiangong-1, said the module carried special cameras that would take hyperspectral images of China's vast farmlands to detect heavy metal pollution and pesticide residue as well as plant disease.

Moreover, scientists on the ground will conduct experiments on photonic crystal, a new material expected to revolutionize information technology, in the low-gravity environment inside the Tiangong-1 as these experiments would be extremely difficult to conduct on the Earth's surface.

China plans to turn its future space station into an international platform for space research and application to share space achievements with partners.

"The Chinese nation has pursued peace since ancient times," said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program. "China's ultimate intention with the space program is to explore space resources and make use of them for mankind's well-being."

(Xinhua News Agency)

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