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Historic Chinese space mission docks successfully

By Alexis Lai, CNN
June 18, 2012 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China's Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab
  • China is now the third country to complete a manned space docking
  • The mission also saw the country's first female astronaut go into space

(CNN) -- China's Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space laboratory on Monday, completing the next step in the country's ambitious space mission.

This makes China the third country to complete a manned space docking, following the United States and Russia. The mission, which began on Saturday, also saw the country's first female astronaut go into space.

The three-person crew will stay in the space lab to conduct "scientific experiments, technical tests, and physical exercises," according to official state news agency, Xinhua.

China makes space history

Tiangong-1, a prototype for a full-fledged space station, was launched into space in September. The unmanned Shenzhou-8 successfully docked there two months later, in China's first space docking.

China has made rapid, steady strides in developing its space program over the last decade, such as sending its first astronaut into space, completing its first spacewalk, and launching two lunar orbiters.

The latest docking mission was one of the goals included in a government white paper issued in December, which outlined an ambitious five-year space exploration plan.

CNN's Tian Shao contributed to this report.

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