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China completes first manned space docking, joining US and Russia


A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approching Tiangong-1 module for the automatic docking on July 18, 2012.

China performed its first space docking involving a piloted spacecraft on Monday, a feat only two other nations — the United States and Russia — have accomplished.

The Shenzhou-9 capsule docked shortly with the Tiangong 1 module 213 miles above the Earth just after 2 p.m. Monday Beijing time (2 a.m. ET) in a maneuver shown live on Chinese national television, according to the Associated Press.

While the docking was remotely controlled, from a ground base in China, a manual docking by one of the crew is scheduled for later in the mission, the AP wrote.

Shenzhou-9 launched Saturday carrying three crew, including the country's first female astronaut, 33-year-old Air Force pilot Liu Yang.

More from GlobalPost: Liu Yang named as first Chinese astronaut in space

Manual docking is a delicate procedure carried out while the vessels are revolving around the Earth at thousands of miles an hour.

Any collision could be catastrophic for both vehicles.

China must perfect docking technology in order to complete construction of a space station by 2020, part of an effort known as Project 921, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The US and then-Soviet Russia successfully completed dockings in 1966 and 1969 respectively.

After the manual docking, two crew members from Shenzhou-9 are to conduct medical tests and experiments inside the module, while the third astronaut — or "taikonaut" as the Chinese call them — will remain in the spacecraft.

The two taikonauts on the mission with Yang are Jing Haipeng, 46, on his third space mission, and Liu Wang, 42, who according to Agence France-Press has been in the space program for 14 years.

AFP quoted President Hu Jintao as saying the current mission would mark a "major breakthrough in the country's manned space program."

China's space station would weigh in at 60 tons, while the International Space Station weighs about 430 tons, NBC News wrote.