China has successfully launched its third manned mission to outer space.  The highlight of this trip will be a spacewalk, in which a Chinese man takes the first steps in space for his country.  Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

With a perfunctory countdown, the Shenzhou 7 blasted off.

In an encounter broadcast live on state television, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Shenzhou 7's three astronauts at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in western China's Gansu Province.

Hu said he represents the lofty aspirations of the central leadership of the country and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the people of China, in wishing the astronauts success in their mission.

With its first manned space flight in 2003, China joined the United States and Russia in putting humans into outer space.

Liu Guoning, a researcher with China's manned space engineering office, says this third mission is the riskiest yet for China.

Liu says, in China 's previous two manned space missions, the hardest part was the launch and the re-entry.  He says, this time the highest risk will come with the spacewalk, which is scheduled for Saturday.

At a regular foreign ministry briefing, spokesman Liu Jianchao was asked about whether China has military intentions for outer space.

Liu says the Shenzhou 7 mission is part of China's efforts to explore and make peaceful use of outer space for all humanity.

China raised international concern last year, after it destroyed one of its own satellites in space.  Critics say the anti-satellite test, which was conducted without prior public notice, signified a major new Chinese military capability.