Chinese space module gets first-ever residents

Three Chinese -- including the country's first woman astronaut -- Monday became the "first tenants" of the Tiangong-1 space module after China's first manned spacecraft Shenzhou-9 successfully docked with the orbiter.

The Beijing Aerospace Control Centre said the procedure began with the Shenzhou-9 moving to a location 52 km away from the Tiangong-1. The spacecraft then slowly drifted toward the Tiangong-1 before making contact with the module at 2.07 p.m. China time.The 8.5-tonne space module has been going around the earth for 263 days since it was launched in September 2011.

The docking was completed in less than eight minutes, Xinhua reported.Shenzhou-9, atop the Long March-2F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre Saturday.

The first Chinese woman in space, 33-year-old Liu Yang, is joined by commanding officer Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang.

Last year, China successfully carried out the automated rendezvous and docking between the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1.

The three astronauts Monday floated into the cabin of the orbiting module, becoming the first from their country to enter an orbiter in space.

Live TV broadcast showed the blue uniform-clad astronauts waving to the camera inside the Tiangong-1 after they entered the cabin.

They became the first tenants in the 15-cubic-metre cabin of the Tiangong-1 also known as "Heavenly Palace".

"The real test will be the manual docking attempt six days later," said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China's manned space programme.

"A manual docking, if successful, will demonstrate the country's grasp of essential space rendezvous and docking knowhow," he said.

"It will mean China is fully capable of transferring humans and cargo to an orbiter in space," Zhou said.

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