China Reports First Successful Space Docking

Posted November 3rd, 2011 at 12:35 am (UTC-5)
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China says it has successfully carried out its first-ever rendezvous of two orbiting spacecraft.

Officials say the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft docked with the experimental Tiangong-1 module Thursday morning about 340 kilometers above the Earth's surface. The sophisticated procedure is a critical step in China's ambitions to establish a manned space station by 2020.

Xinhua news agency says Premier Wen Jiabao and other top officials witnessed the historic event at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center. President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory message from France, where he is attending the G-20 summit.

The two joined spacecraft will orbit the Earth for 12 days before separating and repeating the procedure. After two more days together, the Shenzhou-8 will undock from the module and return to Earth.

The spacecraft is also carrying equipment to perform several experiments in cooperation with German scientists.

China plans two more docking missions with the Tiangong-1 module next year, with at least one of them carrying a live crew that could include China's first female astronaut.

China launched its first manned space flight in 2003, joining the United States and Russia as the only nations to put humans into space. Beijing considers its space program as a symbol of its status as a rising global power.