Chinese spacecraft parachutes to Earth

Nov. 17, 2011 at 6:25 PM

BEIJING, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- An unmanned Chinese spacecraft that took part in the country's first docking maneuver in space returned to Earth late Thursday, officials said.

The Shenzhou 8 capsule landed in the Gobi desert in a descent slowed by parachute, the BBC reported.

During its time in orbit, the Shenzhou capsule had rendezvoused and docked twice with China's mini space laboratory module Tiangong-1, which remains in orbit.

The successful dockings are a step toward missions with astronauts visiting the Tiangong-1 next year, Chinese space officials said.

One of those missions could include China's first female astronaut, they said.

Shenzhou 8 was in orbit for 17 days, the longest Shenzhou mission to date.

China says its ultimate goal is construction of a space station similar to the International Space State Station operated by the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan.

Construction could begin before 2020, experts said.

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