the Shenzhou-8 spaceship has successfully completed its rendezvous with Tiangong-1 (“heavenly palace”), at a speed of about 28,000 km/h, 343 km above of the Earth.
With this first rendezvous in orbit, China confirmed its intention to become a major space power. The docking of two vessels, for now uninhabited, is a crucial step towards building a space station by 2020.
Shenzhou-8 was launched Tuesday from the base of Jiuquan, which was also a party on September 29 Tiangong-1. Premier Wen Jiabao attended the retransmission of the operation from the control center in Beijing. The Chinese press describes it as a “kiss” in space. President Hu Jintao, who is in France to attend the G20 summit in Cannes has sent a congratulatory message.
Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 will remain connected for 12 days before separating to come together again for two days. After their second separation, Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth on November 17 in the afternoon.
The space technology is controlled by the Russians and the Americans since the 1960s. The China National Space Administration said it has developed the technology, though its design is based on Russian’s.
China wishes to have a space station where the crew can live for several months, as the old Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station. If current operations end well, next year China will launch two other ships Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 to join Tiangong-1, Shenzhou-10 will be inhabited.
Two women are among the astronauts train for this mission. They could be the first Chinese to be sent by their countries in space.
Shenzhou-8 was loaded with 17 experiments in automatic life science carried out in cooperation with Germany. It is “the first international cooperation program of the Chinese manned flight in space science.” For the Chinese, “it is to show that a real level of cooperation has now been achieved” while the Germans are looking to diversify their “carriers,” said Isabelle Sourbes-Verger, a specialist in China’s space program at the CNRS.