China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.
Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.
- It marks another significant step in the space program drive of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, seen as a rival to the U.S. in space.
The big picture: Shenzhou 12 is the "third of 11 missions" needed to complete the construction of the permanent space station, per Space.com.
- The core element of the station was launched into orbit in April.
- China's government is excluded from the International Space Station program — the only space station in orbit.
Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.