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Breathtaking "kiss" in space

(China Daily)

08:38, November 04, 2011

The excitement and tension are becoming palpable in the Beijing Aerospace Control Center on Wednesday night as the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module come together to complete their "kiss".

The control center, which is located in Beijing's suburban Changping district, is heavily guarded. When I arrived, my car was stopped in front of the center's gate by a People's Liberation Army (PLA) guard and I was asked to present my permission for admittance. PLA soldiers are deployed along the roads to the command building.

On entering the command building my bag is put through an X-ray scanner and I am given a thorough body check, just like the security procedures at an airport. After the security check I am told to put on a pair of plastic shoe covers.

There are three different color passes for the control center. People with red passes have top priority and at most times they can enter the command hall. My pass is green, which means I must stay at the news center, a room with two televisions broadcasting CCTV live reports and a large LED screen showing a real-time image of the command hall.

Fortunately, I can hear the sound from the command hall through the loudspeakers installed in the news center and I can sense the growing excitement.

On the LED screen showing the command hall, I can see interior and exterior images of the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft.

A traditional Chinese decorative knot is swinging slightly inside the spacecraft, which seems to ease the tension in the command hall to some extent.

Instructions from the loudspeakers become more frequent on Thursday morning just after 1 am, when the Shenzhou VIII deploys its docking device. The operators in the command hall become more concentrated as the countdown draws near, and their voices become more exited as the Shenzhou VIII and Tiangong-1 close to less than 30 meters. Everyone else has their eyes glued to the screen and is holding their breath.

Then everyone starts applauding when the Shenzhou VIII and Tiangong-1 have "physical contact" at about 1.28 am.

At 1:43 am, Chang Wanquan, chief commander of China's manned space program, announces the country's first space dock between the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module was successful.

In the news center, newspaper reporters are beating frantic tattoos on the keyboards of their laptops, and radio reporters are busy making phone calls in low voices for live broadcast.

"It's just like a couple of lovers walking hand in hand in space," a radio reporter broadcasts.

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