China on Monday launched Shenzhou-11 as part of its longest-ever manned space mission, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert. The spacecraft carries two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, and will dock with the Tiangong 2 space lab for 30 days. This is more than double the country’s record for days spent in space, the New York Times reported.

The mission is likely to aid China’s efforts to send astronauts to the moon and Mars as well as its plan to set up a permanent space station, Tianhe-1, in 2018. The spacecraft will take two days to read the Taingong 2 lab. Once there, they will conduct experiments on growing plants in space and also their own bodies, BBC reported. They will also test computers and propulsion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped the astronauts "vigorously advance the spirit of space travel”. He added that the mission would “make new contributions to building up China as a country that is strong in space travel.”

This is China’s sixth manned space mission. It has run a space programme for 46 years.