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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Astronauts Blast Off

JIUQUAN, China -- A rocket carrying two Chinese astronauts blasted off Wednesday from a base in China's desert northwest, returning the country's manned space program to orbit two years after its history-making first flight.

The mission, reportedly due to last up to five days, is an efforts by the communist government to declare its status as a rising world power with technological triumphs to match its rapid economic growth. It is only the third country to launch a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.

The Long March rocket carrying astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng lifted off at 9 a.m. local time from the heavily guarded Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

In a sign of official confidence, the communist government broke with the military-run space program's usual secrecy and showed the launch live on state television.

Images of Fei and Nie in their cockpit as the craft roared toward orbit were broadcast live to hundreds of millions of Chinese television viewers. "Feeling pretty good," Fei said in the first broadcast comment from the astronauts.

State television showed Chinese President Hu Jintao watching the liftoff from a command center in Beijing, while Premier Wen Jiabao was on hand at the launch base and declared the launch a success. "The Shenzhou 6, which has attracted worldwide attention, has successfully launched," the premier said.

The manned space program is a key prestige project for China's ruling Communist Party, which hopes that patriotic pride at its triumphs will help to shore up the party's public standing amid frustration at official corruption and social problems.