The Long March 2F rocket, carrying astronaut (taikonaut in Chinese) Yang Li Wei lifted off from a pad in the Gobi desert at 9 am (01:00 GMT) and entered its predetermined orbit 10 minutes later, the official Xinhua news agency said.
 
"I feel good and my conditions are normal," Xinhua quoted Yang as saying from space as the Shenzhou V, or "Divine Ship V", was making its first pass around the Earth.

The astronaut is expected to spend 21 hours in space before returning to earth.

Yang, 38, is part of a historic mission which, if completed, will make China just the third nation to successfully put a man into space - and hopefully return him to Earth - four decades behind the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Historical launch

Decked out in his space suit, Yang headed for the launch past rows of beaming and balloon-carrying children, "Young Pioneers" who had come to see him off.

"I feel good and my conditions are normal"

Yang Li Wei
Chinese astronaut



State media have hailed the spacecraft as China's most sophisticated, with cutting-edge technology including fault-detection and escape systems.

"The rocket that will launch the Shenzhou V spaceship is the best of all. It is of superior quality and has stood our most stringent testing," the official China Daily quoted Huang Chunping, commander-in-chief of rocket systems, as saying.

Chinese President, Hu Jintao, was at the Jiuchuan Space Centre to watch the launch.

It was a "mark for the initial victory of the country's first manned space flight and for the significant, historic step by the Chinese people in scaling the peak of the world's science and technology", Xinhua quoted Hu as saying.

Proud astronaut

Taikonaut Yang, who follows a trail blazed by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and American Alan Shepard in 1961, was due to orbit the Earth 14 times and return early on Friday morning.

Chinese astronaut Yang Li Wei has
made history

A lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army selected from a pool of 14, Yang is the son of a teacher and an official at an agricultural firm.

Yang's mission would mark the crowning moment for a space programme launched by the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong in 1958, but which quickly fell far behind in the Cold War "space race" rivalry that saw the United States put a man on the moon in 1969.

A year later, China launched its first satellite aboard a Long March rocket, which orbited the Earth blaring out the Cultural Revolution anthem "The East is Red."
 
The success of the latest space mission would spur China's scientific programmes. It would also expectedly boost the
populous country's emergence on the world diplomatic stage.