THREE CHINESE ASTRONAUTS aboard a spacecraft have successful docked with an orbiting lab, in what is seen as a major advance for the country which has invested heavily in its space programme.
The Shenzou-9 spacecraft docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module at around 5 o’clock this morning Irish time, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.
It is the first time that China has ever successfully manually docked a spacecraft with another space module.
The manual docking required the astronauts to connect the two vessels which were travelling at 7.8 km per second and is a highly delicate procedure.
The docking was shown live on Chinese state television, which showed images of the astronauts smiling after completing the procedure.
The designer of China’s manned space programme said that the docking was significant because it means China has fully grasped space travel, space walk, and docking technologies that are needed to build a space station, Xinhua reports.
China is aiming to build a space station by 2020. If successful, it will be only the third country, after the US and Russia, to send an independently maintained space station into orbit.
The three astronauts, including 33-year-old Liu Yang who is China’s first female astronaut, are on board China’s fourth manned misson in space.