Chinese Astronauts Complete First Attempted Manual Docking
June 25, 2012

Chinese Astronauts Complete First Attempted Manual Docking

A trio of Chinese astronauts manually docked the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to an orbiting laboratory module on Sunday, achieving success in the first such attempt in the history of that nation's space program, the Xinhua News Agency has reported.

The three-person Shenzhou-9 crew -- 33-year-old Liu Yang, 43-year-old Liu Wang, and 45-year-old mission commander Jing Haipeng -- placed their vehicle into docking position outside the Tiangong-1 space lab at 12:48pm, and reconnected with the module approximately seven minutes later.

They had departed from the station roughly one and a half hours prior to the docking, traveling to a berth point 400 meters away before returning and completing manual docking procedures three minutes faster than it could have been done automatically, Chinese space program representative Liu Weibo told Xinhua.

Wu Ping, another spokesperson for the country's manned space program told Bloomberg News that the docking was a "complete success" and that the achievement "lays a solid foundation for construction of the space station."

Likewise, she told the Associated Press (AP) that the maneuver was "precise and perfect," that the crew performed their duties "calmly and skillfully," and that it was "a major breakthrough in our space rendezvous and docking technologies."

According to what Liu Weibo told Xinhua, there were three factors credited for the successful manual docking procedure. The first was Liu Wang's ability to master the complicated technologies required to complete the operation, as well as his psychological make-up. The second was the ability of the crew members to communicate and cooperate, and the third was the reliability of the "domestically-made docking system."

"The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft is scheduled to part from the Tiangong-1 module manually in four days and take the three astronauts back to Earth next Friday, which would set a record for the longest space travel in the history of China's manned space program," the news agency also reported.

As previously reported here at redOrbit, Shenzhou-9, which was launched on June 16, successfully docked with Tiangong-1, which had been placed in orbit last year, on June 18. The launch was notable for the inclusion of Liu Yang, the first Chinese female astronaut to make the journey into space.

It was the nation's fourth manned mission, following in the footsteps of last year´s successful unmanned Shenzhou-8 mission that rendezvoused and docked with Tiangong-1 on November 2, 2011. In addition to the manual docking, the current mission will also feature a wide range of scientific experiments, including a series of medical tests intended to better understand the effects of weightlessness on the human body.