With its successful launch of a manned spacecraft on Sunday, China seeks to finish construction of its space station within the year and potentially enlist Russia's help and expertise.
China’s Shenzhou 14 spacecraft docked with the Tiangong space station late Sunday afternoon, the start of a six-month mission for three astronauts to oversee the final stages of the space station’s construction.
The craft blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert in northern China at 10.44am and docked with the station’s Tianhe core module – 400km (248 miles) above the ground – at 5.42pm, a journey of almost seven hours. Control centre staff applauded as the spacecraft connected with the Tianhe module.
After docking, the astronauts took three hours to open four hatches and enter the space station.
China Manned Space Agency announced about 20 minutes after take-off that the launch of Shenzhou 14 was successful. It said the manned spacecraft separated from the rocket and entered the predetermined orbit 577 seconds after launch, adding that the crew were in good condition.