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China launches first three-man crew to new space station

China launched the first three-man crew to its new space station in its first crewed mission in five years Thursday.

The astronauts are traveling in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship launched by a Long March-2F Y12 rocket that blasted off shortly after the target time of 9:22 a.m. (0122 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China.

The launch time saw bright blue skies with near perfect visibility at the launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

Chinese astronauts, from left, Tang Hongbo, Liu Boming, and Nie Haisheng wave as they prepare to board for liftoff at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in northwestern China, Thursday, June 17, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony. (AP PhotoNg Han Guan)

The two veteran astronauts and a newcomer making his first space flight are heading to the Tianhe station for a three-month stay in its main living compartment for three months while they carry out experiments, test equipment, conduct maintenance and prepare the station for receiving two additional modules next year.

Chinese astronauts wave as they prepare to board for liftoff at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in northwestern China, Thursday, June 17, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony. (AP PhotoNg Han Guan)

Chinese astronauts, from left, Liu Boming, Nie Haisheng, and Tang Hongbo wave as they prepare to board for liftoff at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan in northwestern China, Thursday, June 17, 2021. China plans on Thursday to launch three astronauts onboard the Shenzhou-12 spaceship who will be the first crew members to live on China's new orbiting space station Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony. (AP PhotoNg Han Guan)