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Jun 16, 2022

10 years ago, China docked to its space station — and changed the space race forever

Posted by in category: space

Ten years ago today, China sent a crew to its thus-far unoccupied Tiangong-1 space station. When the crew arrived two days later, the nation joined Russia and the United States in a rarified spacefaring club that marked the beginning of China’s space ascent.

On June 16, 2012, the China Manned Space Agency launched the Shenzhou-9 mission. Its three-person crew — commander Jing Haipeng, major Liu Wang, and China’s first woman in space, major Liu Yang — flew into Earth orbit atop a Long March rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Mongolia in the Gobi Desert. They successfully docked with China’s Tiangong-1 space lab on June 18.

It was a long time coming. In 2008, China successfully docked its Shenzhou 8 craft to the Tiangong-1 space station. But both the space station and its new addition were uncrewed, guided on the ground by mission control. That left it up to the Shenzhou 9 crew to make history by taking it literally into their own hands. Taikonaut Liu Wang piloted Shenzhou 9 toward Tiangong-1, easing into position for a soft docking. After securing various bolts and locks, ground control began equalizing the air pressure between the capsule and station. Three hours later, the crew entered the station.

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