In a significant step in China’s plan to build a space station, two of the country’s spacecraft docked while orbiting Earth.
After a two-day orbital chase, the Shenzhou 8 spacecraftlatched onto a prototype space lab module called Tiangong 1 at 1:30 p.m. ET (1:30 a.m. local time Thursday in China). Ten minutes later, the docking was complete.
“Tiangong 1 has joined Shenzhou 8, has completed the rendezvous and docking process, and I announce the docking of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 has been a complete success,” said Chang Wanquan, chief commander of the China Manned Space Engineering Project.
The historic meet-up was designed to test technologies that China will use to assemble a space station in orbit, which the nation hopes to have up and running by 2020.
The AP reports that China decided to build its own space station, after it was turned away from the International Space Station over objections from the United States. The BBC has a little more on the chilly space relations between the two countries:
Space analyst Prof John Logsdon from George Washington University said the two nations needed to learn to trust each other first, perhaps in the field of robotic space science, before there could be wider co-operation.
“Human spaceflight, both in the United States and in China, is a very visible, very politically charged activity,” he told CCTV. “[We need] to learn to work with one another, get comfortable, develop mutual trust, hopefully solve our political problems, and then maybe at the end of this decade or in the next one start working together in human spaceflight.”