Chinese astronauts completes 1st manual docking

Beijing: China today successfully completed its first-ever manual space docking when its astronauts linked their spacecraft with an experimental space lab module, a critical step that brought it closer to build a space station.

The three astronauts, including China`s first woman cosmonaut Liu Yang, onboard spacecraft Shenzhou-9 (Divine Grace) docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab (Heavenly Palace) the first experimental space with text book precession, an event telecast live by the state-run CCTV.

With today`s manual docking, China becomes third country after Russia and the US to accomplish such a feat in space. The event was timed to coincide with the Dragon Boat festival being celebrated all over China today. The two spacecraft which were separated earlier through an automatic procedure were conjoined again in a manual process which took about 10 minutes.

The ground staff cheered as the three astronauts showed victory sign announcing the successful docking, regarded as an essential manoeuvre, critical during emergencies, when the automatic system fail. To leave room for manual adjustment, engineers set up four berth points for the spaceship on the same orbit five km, 400 meters, 140 meters and 30 meters away from the orbiting lab. 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 China`s northwest Gobi desert. A highly sophisticated space manoeuvre, manual docking requires the astronauts to link together two orbiters traveling at 7.8 kilometers a second in space without a hitch.