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China Accomplishes First Space Docking
    UPDATED: 2011-11-03
BEIJING, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- Two Chinese spacecraft accomplished the country's first space docking procedure early Thursday, silently coupling in space more than 343 km above Earth's surface.

Nearly two days after it was launched, the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 docked with space lab module Tiangong-1 at 1:36 a.m., marking another great leap for China's space program.

The success of the docking procedure makes China the third country in the world, after the United States and Russia, to master the technique, moving the country one step closer to establishing its own space station.

President Hu Jintao, who is in France for the G-20 summit, sent a congratulatory message on the success of the country's first-ever space docking.

"Breakthroughs in and acquisition of space docking technologies are vital to the three-phase development strategy of our manned space program," Hu said in the message.

Hu said he wishes all the program participants to try all out to fulfill a complete success of the whole mission after the smooth docking.

The Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 will separate after flying together for 12 days. After that a second docking procedure will be conducted.

Rendezvous and docking, essential to exploring space beyond Earth's orbit, create the possibility of building space stations, resupplying them, transferring astronauts and rescuing them.