Some reporters barred
Foreign reporters were barred from the launch base near the former Silk Road oasis of Jiuquan. A handful of Chinese reporters were allowed to be on hand for the liftoff, but authorities at the last minute turned back Hong Kong reporters who had been invited to attend.
The Chinese reporters were warned that they might be ordered to hand over film or video —— a possible image-control measure in case anything went wrong.
Other reporters who tried to get near the base were stopped at roadblocks up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
State television showed taped images of Fei and Nie, dressed in space suits, walking through the predawn darkness and a light snowfall toward the bus that would carry them to the launch pad. A senior officer saluted them and they waved to cheering technicians who held Chinese and military flags aloft.
The Shenzhou —— or Divine Vessel —— capsule is based on Russia's workhorse Soyuz, though with extensive modifications. China also bought technology for spacesuits, life-support systems and other equipment from Moscow, though officials say all of the items launched into space are Chinese-made.
China has had a rocketry program since the 1950s and fired its first satellite into orbit in 1970. It regularly launches satellites for foreign clients aboard its giant Long March boosters.
Chinese space officials say they hope to land an unmanned probe on the Moon by 2010 and want to launch a space station.