China celebrates first manual docking of manned spacecraft
China has spent billions of dollars on its space program in an effort to put the country on a par with the U.S. and Russia in space.
The New York Times
BEIJING — A Chinese spacecraft with three astronauts on board docked manually with an orbiting module Sunday, an important step toward China's goal of building a space station by 2020.
The maneuver of the Shenzhou 9 capsule aligning with the Taingong 1 module was shown live on national television Sunday to huge audiences.
A spokeswoman for China's manned space program said that hand levers were used to control the capsule as it positioned to dock with the orbiting module.
The effort was "precise and perfect," and the three astronauts, including China's first woman in space, worked "calmly and skillfully," said the spokeswoman, Wu Ping.
"This success in manual docking represents a major breakthrough in our space rendezvous and docking technologies," Wu said.
The female astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, an air-force pilot, has become a national hero since the crew launched into space a week ago from the Jiuquan space center in the Gobi Desert in western China. The other members of the mission are the commander, Jing Haipeng, 45, and Liu Wang, 43.
The crew has been living and working in the module since the launching June 16, and their feats have prompted an outpouring of national pride, and saturation media coverage.
The success of the Shenzhou 9 launching and its docking maneuvers will allow China to move forward toward its goal of building a permanent space station by 2020. China has said it plans to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
China has spent billions of dollars on its space program in an effort to put the country on a par with the U.S. and Russia in space. The U.S. and Russia are the only countries to have sent independently maintained space stations into orbit.
The first Chinese astronaut was sent into space in 2003, and a Chinese astronaut completed a spacewalk in 2008. American space experts have said they have been impressed with the pace and scope of the Chinese space program.
An initial docking of the capsule and the module was completed last week by remote control from a ground base in China.