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.