Saturday’s launch of a piloted space capsule known as Shenzhou-9 marks China’s breakthrough into the exclusive club once made up only of the United States and Russia.
One of the three astronauts in the capsule is a woman, 33-year-old Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space.
Shenzhou-9 was launched at 6:37 p.m (local time) against a vivid blue sky from the Jiuquan space station at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Televised nationally, the launch prompted a round of applause in the command center as the capsule separated from its carrier rocket and entered orbit.
The trickiest part of the mission will come when the capsule docks with the Tiangong 1 space module, a prototype of a space station about the size of a school bus, which is orbiting about 213 miles above Earth.
Learn more, including how the U.S. Congress has banned China from the International Space Station…so they’re building their own: