China Hails Successful Space Launch on Key Docking Mission

Posted November 1st, 2011 at 3:00 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese officials are hailing the successful launch of a space vehicle on a mission that pushes forward the country's plans for a manned space station by 2020.

The vehicle was launched around dawn Tuesday. It will rendezvous within two days with an experimental module launched in September to attempt China's first space-docking operation.

Shortly after the launch from a site in the Gobi Desert, a senior military official announced that the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft had entered its designated orbit.

He declared the launch a complete success.

The delicate docking operation requires a high degree of precision and is essential to China's goal of having a working space station by 2020. The country plans two more space-docking missions to the Tiangong-1 space module next year, with at least one of them to carry live astronauts.

Chinese space program officials say the current mission will include 17 experiments, several of them designed in cooperation with European scientists.

Spokeswoman Wu Ping said these include biological cultivation experiments using bio-incubators designed by German experts.

She said the controlling and docking devices on board the spacecraft all were developed in China.

China is the third country after the United States and Russia to conduct manned space flights, launching its first astronaut in 2003. Its ambitious space program is seen as a reflection of its rapid rise to great power status.