BEIJING – A Chinese spacecraft carrying three astronauts carried out a manual docking with an orbiting module today, a first for the country as it strives to match American and Russian exploits in space.
The Shenzhou 9 capsule completed the maneuver with the Tiangong 1 module. The docking was shown live on national television. It follows a docking last week that was carried out by remote control from a ground base in China.
The Chinese astronauts have been living and working in the module for the past week as part of preparations for manning a permanent space station. They returned to the Shenzhou 9 capsule early today and disconnected in preparation for the manual re-connection.
The crew includes 33-year-old Liu Yang, an air force pilot and China’s first female space traveler.
Their mission, which is expected to last at least 10 days, is China’s fourth manned mission. Shenzhou 9 launched June 16 from the Jiuquan center on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China.
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 around 2020.