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China takes a BIG leap in space

June 24, 2012 19:30 IST

China on Monday successfully achieved its first-ever manual docking, a great leap forward in setting up of a space lab by 2020, even as it offered to send foreign astronauts, possibly a Pakistani, into space in the future.

Achieving a key breakthrough in space technology, three Chinese astronauts including the country's first woman astronaut Liu Yang, on board the spacecraft Shenzhou-9 (Divine Grace) docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab (Heavenly Palace).

It was the first experimental manual rendezvous with text book precession, an event telecast live by CCTV.

This is the first time Chinese astronauts attempted a manual docking.

Announcing the successful docking, Wu Ping, spokeswoman of China's manned space programme told media here that China will be able to train foreign astronauts with its own space technology and send them to space by Shenzhou spacecraft someday.

China has completed limited number of space missions and will continue to conduct numerous manned space technological tests, she said.

"China has undertaken active and pragmatic cooperation with Pakistan in the aerospace field," Wu said while answering a question from a Pakistani journalist, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

"The success of the manual docking mission represents a major breakthrough. It was a precise and perfect docking," Wu said.

She said that China would like to cooperate and make exchanges with different nations around the world on the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits to push forward the further development of manned space undertakings.

The ground staff cheered as the three astronauts, including Liu who showed victory sign announcing the successful docking, regarded as an essential manoeuvre, critical during emergencies, when the automatic systems fail.

The spacecraft and the space lab were joined together by an automated docking on June 18.

Shenzhou-9 was sent into space on June 16 from a launch centre in northwest China's Gobi desert.

The astronauts scheduled to return on June 29.

A highly sophisticated space manoeuvre, manual docking requires the astronaut to link together two orbiters travelling at 7.8 kilometres a second in space without a hitch.

Russia's International Space Station, Mir, currently orbiting in the space has experienced 15 failures of manual docking a decade ago, according to Chinese scientists.

China plans to build the similar space lab of its own by 2020 after a series of experimental launches.

Wu said Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman astronaut who flew with her two colleagues had showed an excellent performance in past eight days.

The 33-year-old veteran pilot adapted to the weightlessness in space in a short time, Wu said, adding that "she is in good mental and physical state, adding that all her physiological parameters were normal."

Liu, a veteran air force pilot is in charge of medical experiments during the 13-day mission.

"We have made special arrangements for her life in space including personal hygiene and cleaning supplies. She will tell you whether she is satisfied with the arrangements when she comes back," Wu said.

"The manual docking is a significant step for China's manned space programme," chief designer Zhou Jianping said.             "China has fully grasped... docking technologies that are essential to building a space station," he added.

Wu also said considering successful docking today, China has planned to spend about 19 billion Yuan (about $3 billion) for the country's space rendezvous and docking missions.

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