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China 'one step closer' to constructing space station (+video)

A trio of Chinese astronauts, including the country's first woman in space, successfully docked with an orbiting test module.

By Clara MoskowitzSPACE.com / June 18, 2012

This artist's illustration from a China space agency video shows the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a prototype module for the country's planned space station.

China Manned Space Engineering Office

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Chinese astronauts docked two spaceships in orbit for the first time Monday (June 18), marking a vital milestone in the country's quest to build a manned space station in Earth orbit.

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A Chinese spacecraft carrying three astronauts docked with an orbiting module, in which they'll live and work for several days. 'CBS This Morning' co-host Charlie Rose reports.

The three-person crew of the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which includes the China's first female astronaut, arrived at the country's Tiangong 1 ("Heavenly Palace") test module in orbit and joined the two craft to complete the successful docking. The maneuver is the first manned docking for China, making it the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to achieve such a feat.

"We are one step closer to our destination of constructing a future space station," an official with China's space program said during a broadcast on the state-run CNTV news network. "This is the first successful crew transportation mission for China."

Shenzhou 9 and the Tiangong 1 space module docked in an automatic mode during Monday's successful link-up, with the Chinese astronauts (called taikonauts) to stay in orbit for about 13 days. Later this week, the Shenzhou 9 crew will undock their spacecraft from Tiangong 1 and then re-dock in a manual mode in another test, Chinese space officials have said.

Shenzhou 9 lifted off on a Chinese Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's northern Gansu province Saturday (June 16). [Launch Photos: China's Shenzhou 9 Mission]

The mission is notable not just for the docking, but for the fact that this crew includes China's first female taikonaut. People's Liberation Army pilot Liu Yang is flying with repeat astronaut Jing Haipeng and rookie Liu Wang.

After Monday's successful docking, Jing entered the Tiangong 1 module first and waved to a TV camera to flight controllers on Earth. Liu Wang followed Jing inside the module while Liu Yang remained inside the Shenzhou 9 capsule performing final checks.

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