China spacecraft docks with module
Published 18/06/2012 | 08:12
A Chinese spacecraft carrying three astronauts has docked with an orbiting module where they will live and work for several days as part of preparations for crewing a permanent space station.
The Shenzhou 9 capsule completed the manoeuvre as scheduled as the Tiangong 1 module orbited 213 miles above Earth.
The capsule's crew includes 33-year-old Liu Yang, an airforce pilot and China's first female space traveller.
The docking was completed by remote control from a ground base in China. A manual docking carried out by one of the crew members is scheduled for later.
Two crew members plan to carry out medical tests and experiments inside the module, while the third will remain in the spacecraft.
The docking was a first for a Chinese manned space flight. In November 2011, the unmanned Shenzhou 8 successfully docked twice with Tiangong 1 by remote control.
Ms Liu is joined by mission commander and veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng, 45, and crew mate Liu Wang, 43. The trio will spend at least 10 days in space on China's fourth manned mission, which was launched from the Jiuquan centre on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China on Saturday.
China is hoping to join the United States and Russia as the only countries to send independently maintained space stations into orbit. It is already one of just three nations to have launched manned spacecraft on their own. Another manned mission to the module is planned later this year. Possible future missions could include sending a man to the Moon.
The Tiangong 1, which was launched last year, is due to be replaced by a permanent space station in around 2020. That station is to weigh about 60 tons, slightly smaller than Nasa's Skylab of the 1970s and about one-sixth of the size of the 16-nation International Space Station (ISS).
China has only limited co-operation in space with other nations and is excluded from the ISS, largely on objections from the United States. China first launched a man into space in 2003 and conducted a two-man mission in 2005. A three-man trip in 2008 featured the country's first space walk.