On being blasted off a launch pad on Wednesday, Yang joined a selected band of astronauts.

But it is Yang's modest roots – like many of his illustrious predecessors - that make his extra-terrestrial exploit more remarkable.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was a carpenter's son. American astronaut Alan Shepard, who followed just weeks later, was weaned on the family farm.

Yang hails from a working class family in China's northeastern "rust belt."

Once Chairman Mao's utopia of smokestacks and oil refineries, it is now a graveyard for derelict state enterprises where millions of idle workers have been left to curse their fate.

"I swear to the general secretary and all the Chinese people that I will resolutely accomplish the task and not disgrace the mission"

Yang Li Wei,
China's first taikonaut

Modest family

Yang's mother was a teacher, his father an accountant at a state agricultural firm. His wife is also a PLA officer and they have an eight-year old son.

Just a day after the Communist Party elite put their stamp on a heavily hyped plan to resurrect the old industrial hub at their annual plenum, Yang, 38, and more important, a northeasterner, is treading the frontiers of one of China's newest enterprises.

His feat expectedly would  cheer up the dreary lives of the region's resentful workers.

At a ceremony on the eve of the launch, President Hu Jintao proclaimed the Peoples' Liberation Army fighter pilot a "warrior," who bore the heavy trust of the motherland and the people to realize the "millennial dream."

Decked out in his flying suit and seated behind plexiglass, Yang responded to Hu, PLA generals and other leaders who had gathered to witness the historical launch.

Yang's pledge

Chinese are savouring the news
of the launch

"I swear to the general secretary and all the Chinese people that I will resolutely accomplish the task and not disgrace the mission," he pledged.

Just minutes before the lift-off, Yang's brother-in-law said: " We are proud of him."

Yang made every Chinese proud, with his first spoken words from space exactly 34 minutes after the lift-off.

 "I feel good and my conditions are normal," he was quoted as saying, the first spoken words by a Chinese from space.

It came as a relief for the tensed nation. And China collectively savoured the moment.