China has successfully carried out its first manned space docking, according to official state media.
Earlier today, says the Xinhua news agency, the Shenzhou-9 spaceship and Tiangong-1 space lab module successfully hooked up. Shown live on Chinese television, the docking was completed a little after 2pm local time – 2am EDT – some 213 miles above the Earth.
It was an ultra-precise maneouver, with the ship inching towards the station at just 0.2 meters per second to complete the docking.
The ship was launched on Saturday for a 13-day trip, and is China’s first manned mission since 2008.
It’s the first manned docking for China, although its unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft successfully carried out a similar manoeuver late last year. Today’s docking was also managed remotely from the ground, although a manual docking is planned for later in the mission.
The three astronauts on the spacecraft – Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang – will stay aloft for around ten days, anlthough one crew member will remain on the spacecraft in case of emergencies. The other two will carry out a series of scientific and medical experiments on board the lab.
The achievement is a big feather in the cap for China, which is aiming to establish its own permanently-manned space station by the end of this decade. It won’t be as big as the International Space Station, at just 60 tons to the ISS’s 430.
Another manned mission to Tiangong-1 is expected later this year, along with an unmanned moon landing.