Shenzhou-10 Spacecraft Docks with Chinese Space Station

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NEW YORK — A Chinese space capsule carrying a crew of three docked with the nation’s orbiting space module June 13, two days after launch.

The trio of astronauts — two men and a woman — blasted off aboard their Shenzhou-10 spacecraft toward the Tiangong-1 module from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert at 5:38 a.m. EDT. 

Chinese state media reported that Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping — the second female Chinese astronaut to fly in space — automatically docked their Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to the Tiangong-1 module at 1:18 a.m. EDT. The astronauts entered the orbiting module at 4:17 a.m. EDT, beginning a 12-day stint onboard the space laboratory.

At 15 days in space, this mission is scheduled to be the longest spaceflight for a Chinese crew in the history of the country’s space program.

“The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft has been successfully launched and precisely put into orbit, which means that our country’s fifth manned space mission has succeeded in the first phase,” said China’s president, Xi Jinping, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. “At this very moment, I am sharing the same feeling with everyone. I am very happy and excited.”

During their time on Tiangong-1 (also known as the Heavenly Palace-1), the spacefliers will dock their spacecraft to the module once more using manual docking procedures and perform experiments. The crew is also expected to send down a science lesson to Chinese schoolchildren at some point during their stay.

Shenzhou-10 is the last of three missions designed to help master space-based docking and rendezvous technology, officials have said.

The mission is expected to help the Chinese space agency gain necessary experience that can be applied to building and operating a larger space station by 2020. The eventual 90-ton orbiting station will have three capsules: a core unit and two laboratories, according to Xinhua.

Tiangong-1 has orbited Earth since Sept. 2011, and is scheduled to remain operational for another three months. The module has played host to eight other Chinese astronauts before the Shenzhou-10 mission, with the first crew docking in June 2012.

China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, was sent to orbit in 2003, making China the third nation — after Russia and the United States — to launch astronauts to space using its own vehicles.