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Middle Kingdom's bid to space

(Global Times)

08:57, September 30, 2011

The Long March rocket carrying the Tiangong-1 space lab blasts off on Thursday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Photo: Xinhua

China's first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 entered the earth's orbit on Thursday evening, marking a critical step for the country in its plans to build its own space station at a time when the world's space technology leaders are either slowing down or redesigning their manned space programs.

With President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao watching while hundreds of thousands tuned in to a live broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV), the Long March-2FT1 rocket carrying the 8-ton module lifted off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:16 pm.

Commander-in-chief of China's manned space program, Chang Wanquan, declared the launch successful at 9:38, about 10 minutes after Tiangong-1 extended its solar panels more than 300 kilometers above the planet.

Tiangong-1 will be used to test rendezvous and docking, a maneuver that is essential for building a space station. CCTV announced on Thursday that the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft will be launched November 1 to conduct a docking test with Tiangong-1.

China plans to send astronauts onboard Shenzhou-10 within two years to dock with Tiangong-1.

The technology for docking in space is hard to master because the two vessels, placed in the same orbit and revolving around Earth at some 28,000 kilometers per hour, must come together progressively to avoid destroying each other.

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