Two unmanned Chinese spacecraft have successfully docked 211 miles above Earth.
“[The] Tiangong 1 [Heavenly Palace module] has joined [the] Shenzhou 8 [spacecraft], completing the rendezvous and docking process,” confirmed Chang Wanquan, chief commander of the China Manned Space Engineering Project.
The docking exercise, which is Beijing’s first, is seen as critical step towards realizing the goal of a manned Chinese space station by 2020.
Chief designer Zhou Jianping said the test proved China was equipped with the “basic technology” and capabilities required for construction of a fully-functioning space station.
“We can never count on other countries to sell their mature technologies to us, so we have to rely on our own.
“[Clearly], this will make it possible for [us] to carry out space exploration on a larger scale,” Jianping told Xinhua.
A spokesperson for China’s space program said two similar docking exercises would take place in 2012. At least one of the participating spacecraft will be carrying astronauts.
It should be noted that Beijing is also planning an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a lunar rover in 2012, with Chinese scientists hoping to send a manned mission sometime after 2020.