The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft (June 24) successfully linked with the Tiangong-1 module. The Chinese hope to build a space station by 2020. The first female astronaut was part of this mission.
The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft linked with the Tiangong-1 module just over a week into a manned space mission which includes China’s first female astronaut, following an automatic docking on Monday.
“The first manual docking has been completed normally,” mission control announced in a live broadcast on state television.
Veteran astronaut Liu Wang used a joystick-like device to carry out the manoeuvre, with the official Xinhua news agency describing him as “threading the needle”.
“This first manual docking was perfect. At the last moment, the alignment was better than last time (the automatic docking),” Zhang Liyan of the government’s China Manned Space Office told state television.
The move was the main goal of the 13-day Shenzhou (Divine Vessel) mission, testing the docking technique essential to building a space station — which China aims to do by 2020.
China sees its space programme as a symbol of its global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The two spacecraft first came together in an automatic docking on June 18, and several hours later the three astronauts on board Shenzhou-9 entered the experimental Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) module — a first for China.
State media said all three astronauts would return to the space module, where they had been staying after the automatic docking, to continue scientific experiments on China’s fourth manned space mission.