A Chinese spacecraft has successfully completed the country's first manual docking in orbit. The operation is a further step towards a planned space station.
The Shenzhou 9 capsule completed the maneuver with the Tiangong 1 orbiting lab module shortly before 0500 GMT on Sunday. The docking was shown live on national television.
The spacecraft had already conducted an automated docking, carried out by remote control from a ground base in China, with theTiangong 1 on June 18, a day after leaving earth.
The three Chinese astronauts on board have been living and working in the module for the past week. They returned to the capsule early on Sunday and disconnected in preparation for the manual re-docking.
The crew includes 33-year-old Liu Yang, China's first female space traveler. Its mission, China's fourth manned one, is expected to last at least 10 days
The operation was an important test of the docking technique needed for building a space station, which China plans to do by 2020. Only the United States and Russia have so far sent independently maintained space stations into orbit.
Manual docking is a risky procedure, as the two vessels involved must come together very gently to avoid damage.
China's planned space station is to be about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station.
tj/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)