China is due to embark on its most ambitious space mission with the launch of a spacecraft that will propel three astronauts - including the nation's first woman - to the final frontier.
The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft was expected to take off on China's fourth manned space mission last night from the remote Gobi desert in the nation's northwest, in a bid to achieve the first manual space docking high above Earth.
The crew will be headed by Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut who has gone to space twice already, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, 33, who has created a stir becoming China's first woman to travel to space.
The mission will last 10 days, during which time the crew will perform experiments and a manual space docking - a highly technical procedure that brings two vessels together in high speed orbit.
Successful completion of the space rendezvous - which will see Shenzhou-9 attach itself to the Tiangong-1 module orbiting Earth - will take China one step nearer to setting up its own space station in 2020.