China on Monday launched the third and final module to complete its permanent space station, realising a more than decade-long endeavor to maintain a constant crewed presence in orbit.
Mengtian was blasted into space at 3:39 p.m. (0739 GMT) Monday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan.
A large crowd of amateur photographers, space enthusiasts and assorted lookers-on watched the lift-off from an adjoining beach.
Many waved Chinese flags and wore T-shirts emblazoned with the characters for China, reflecting the deep national pride invested in the space program and the technological progress it represents.
Mengtian, or "Celestial Dream," joins Wentian as the second laboratory module for the station, collectively known as Tiangong, or "Celestial Palace." Both are connected to the Tianhe core module where the crew lives and works.
Like its predecessors, Mengtian was launched aboard a Long March-5B Y4 carrier rocket — a member of China's most powerful familly of launch vehicles — from the coastal Wenchang space base on the tropical island province of Hainan.
Mengtian was due to spend 13 hours in flight before reaching Tiangong which is populated by a crew of two male and one female astronauts, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe and Liu Yang arrived in early June for a six-month stay on board, during which they will complete the station's assembly, conduct space walks and carry out additional experiments.