China achieves first space docking manoeuvre

Two of China’s unmanned spacecraft successfully docked for the first time high above the Earth, China today termed it as a major technological breakthrough in its ambitious programme to establish a manned space station by 2020.

The Shenzhou-8 spacecraft which was launched two day ago silently coupled the Tiangong-1 module, sent into space last month more than 343 km above Earth, in a manoeuvre carried live on state television.
The assembly already has orbited Earth six times with onboard instruments working normally, Ms Wu Ping, the spokesperson of the China’s manned space programme said.
The success of the docking procedure makes China the third country in the world, after the United States and Russia, to master the technique, moving the country one step closer to establishing its own space station.
Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 will fly together for about 12 days and then conduct another space docking at an appropriate time, Wu said. After that Shenzhou-8 would return back to home on November 17.  PTI
China plans to send a manned mission next year in which a woman astronaut could take part to attempt similar docking.
The President, Mr Hu Jintao, who is in France for the G-20 summit, sent a congratulatory message on the success of the country’s first-ever space docking.
“Breakthroughs in and acquisition of space docking technologies are vital to the three-phase development strategy of our manned space programme,” Mr Hu said.
For more 10 years, China has made breakthroughs in key technologies and formed a set of design, production and experiment systems for spacecraft space docking, Ms Wu said.
“Acquisition of the space docking technology is vital for China to implement the three-phase development strategy of its manned space programme,” she said.
Space docking is among the fundamental technologies necessary for manned space operations, she said was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
Ms Wu also said the space docking technology would also promote the “sustained development of its manned space cause,” apparently rebutting criticism China is experimenting with technology which former Soviet Union did decades ago.
One of the influential state-run dailies, the Global Times two days ago questioned the relevance of the docking programme saying that the country needed to strike a balance in its spending.
“The docking test between Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 (to be accomplished in the next two days) is a brave step. But the former Soviet Union took that step more than 30 years ago. Furthermore, the diameter of China’s carrier rockets and their relevant carrying capacity lag behind America and Russia”, state run Global Times said in its editorial.
“China hasn’t experienced major setbacks in the development of manned spaceflight technology, and China has high expectations for the future of space technology. But China’s space projects are imitating America’s and Russia’s”, it had said.
“In China today, human lives are the priority….. Money is needed elsewhere, and appears to be more urgent than space technology”, it had said.

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