China has launched a rocket carrying its first woman into space along with two fellow male astronauts.
Female astronaut Liu Yang and her fellow crew members blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in a barren region of the Gobi Desert in the country's northwest.
China is just the third country to put its own woman into space.
Chang Wanquan, commander in chief of China's manned space program, said the craft had entered orbit, and declared the launch a "complete success."
The astronauts will now dock their Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with a space module launched in September 2011. The manual docking exercise is seen as a key step in China's plans to build a space station.
China achieved a similar docking in November 2011, but that mission was unmanned and the procedure was conducted remotely from Earth.
The astronauts will remain in orbit for about a week. Two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will remain in the capsule.
In a nod to the symbolic significance of sending a woman into space for the first time, one of China's most senior female leaders, State Councilor Liu Yandong, read a message of congratulation from President Hu Jintao from the launch site.
"I would like to extend warm congratulations and sincere regards to all those participating," Hu said, adding the docking operation would mark a "major breakthrough in the country's manned space program."
PHOTO GALLERY: A Brief History Of Women In Space
China has announced plans to make 33-year-old fighter pilot Liu Yang that country's first woman in space as part of a mission slated for liftoff from the Gobi Desert on June 16.
The Chinese mission was scheduled for launch 49 years to the day after Russian Valentina Tereshkova, seen here aboard her "Vostok 6" spacecraft, became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963.
Tereshkova orbited Earth for more than two days, instantly taking up a place beside Yury Gagarin in the space-race pantheon.
Tereshkova pins a badge on U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong during his visit in 1970 to the Soviet training center, Star City. More than 500 people from 38 countries have traveled into space.
It took just two years after Gagarin (right) became the first man in space in 1961 for the Soviets to send Tereshkova into orbit.
Tereshkova appeared as a delegate to a Moscow World Women's Congress the week after her historic flight.
Tereshkova hobnobs with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (center) and cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky in 1963.
Tereshkova was named a Hero of the Soviet Union and toured the former Soviet bloc, including Prague (above) and Czechoslovakia in 1963.
Soviet postage stamps from 1983 show cosmonaut Tereshkova to commemorate her achievement two decades earlier.
Nineteen years after Tereshkova, Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya (center) became the second woman in space, in 1982, and the first woman to perform a space walk, in 1984.
At least 55 of the world's 500-plus space travelers have been women, most of them from the United States but also from six other countries, including the United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Japan, and France.
American Sally Ride became the first non-Soviet woman to reach space, aboard the U.S. space shuttle "Challenger" in 1983.
American schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, seen here during weightlessness training ahead of the ill-fated space shuttle "Challenger" mission in 1986, died in a tragedy that was televised live around the world.
The U.S. space shuttle "Challenger's" smoke plume after its breakup 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986, killing all seven crewmembers.
Former Air Force test pilot Eileen Collins became the first-ever female commander of a U.S. space shuttle mission in July 1999, on the third of her four shuttle missions.
Indian-American Kalpana Chawla (left) and Laurel Clark work aboard the U.S. space shuttle "Columbia" in January 2003, two weeks before it disintegrated on reentry, killing everyone aboard.
Iranian-American Anousheh Ansari became the first female "space tourist" to have paid her own way, joining a mission to the International Space Station in September 2006.
American Peggy Whitson (right), seen in a 2007 docking between the International Space Station and space shuttle "Discovery," has spent more time in space (377 days) than any other woman in history.
China's Long March II-F rocket carrying the "Shenzhou 7" manned spacecraft blasts off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 25, 2008. China joined the manned spaceflight club in 2003.
A member of China's first batch of female fighter pilots gestures from her aircraft in August 2009, when authorities said they were recruiting taikonauts from that elite group.
The first of the People's Liberation Army's female fighter pilots were introduced at a Beijing ceremony in August 2009.
Chinese authorities said 35 women had been picked for the pilot training, which included astronaut training, from some 200,000 high-school graduates between 17 and 20 years of age.
Liu Wang and her male colleagues are expected to steer their "Shenzhou 9" spacecraft to dock for the first time with China's "Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1" module, launched in September 2011.
Liu Yang in her spacesuit posing for an official photo at the Jiuquan space base on June 12.
China aims to have a fully-fledged space station by about 2020. Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program, told reporters he was confident that a successful docking would put his country on target to reach that goal.
"I believe that we can achieve this goal, because we already have the basic technological capability," Zhou said. "Of course we still have a great deal of work to do in research and development of space."
2020 is the year the international space station is due to retire.
With reporting by Reuters and AP