Beijing has pumped billions of dollars into its space programe in an effort to catch up with the United States and Russia

China’s youngest-ever crew of astronauts has taken off on a six-month mission to its space station, in a growing space programme that plans to send people to the Moon by 2030.

The crew of the Shenzhou-17 lifted off on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 11.14am (03:14 GMT) on Thursday morning.

The crew of three is led by 48-year-old former air force pilot Tang Hongbo, who joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1995 and was on the first crewed mission to the space station, known as the Tiangong, in 2021.

The other astronauts, known as taikonauts in China, are Tang Shengjie, 33, and Jiang Xinlin, 35, who are on their first trip to space.

The all-male crew is the youngest ever to man a mission to the space station, with an average age of 38.

After the rocket had been airborne for about 15 minutes, a space programme official proclaimed the launch a “complete success”.

China’s “space dream” has gone into overdrive under President Xi Jinping.

The world’s second-largest economy has pumped billions of dollars into its military-run space programme in an effort to catch up with the United States and Russia.

The three astronauts waving to the crowd before boarding the space ship
The crew – Jiang Xinlin (left) Tang Shengjie (centre) and Tang Hongbo – is the youngest ever to travel to the space station [Pedro Pardo/AFP]

Tiangong, completed in late 2022, can house a maximum of three astronauts at an orbital altitude of up to 450km (280 miles) with an operational lifespan of more than 15 years.

The Shenzhou 17 astronauts will replace the Shenzhou-16 crew, who arrived at Tiangong at the end of May and will return to Earth on October 31.

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