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China completes its first manual docking in space

BEIJING—The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft completed China’s first manual docking, a major step in the nation’s space program, state media announced Sunday.

Flight engineer Liu Wang piloted the craft to dock with Tiangong-1 in an orbital maneuver broadcast live.

The crew of 14-year veteran Liu Wang, 42, commander Jing Haipeng, 46, and China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, had reportedly rehearsed the procedure in simulation more than 1,500 times.

A spokeswoman for China’s space program told state media after the docking was completed that Liu, who is in charge of medical experiments during the 13-day mission, had excelled in the last eight days.

“She’s in a good mental and physical state,” spokeswoman Wu Ping was quoted as saying. “We have made special arrangements for her life in space including personal hygiene and cleaning supplies. She will tell you whether she is satisfied with the arrangements when she comes back.”

China had previously completed automatic dockings, including one on Monday, but manual docking was necessary for s plans to build a larger laboratory in space.

The United States and the Soviet Union mastered manual docking in the 1960s.

The flight, launched June 16, was China’s fourth manned mission. If the Shenzhou-9 and subsequent Shenzhou-10 missions succeed, two more Tiangong missions will follow, with spacecraft linking to form an expanded space laboratory.

China will then begin a series of launches, aiming to complete the assembly of a new and permanent space station around 2020.

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