BEIJING, June 24 (UPI) -- Chinese astronauts Sunday, for the first time, successfully completed a manual docking with their country's orbiting lab module, mission controllers said.
The Beijing Aerospace Control Center said the docking of the manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with the Tiangong-1 lab module was completed about 12:42 p.m.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency said the three astronauts' ability to hook up their spacecraft with the orbiting module means China has mastered space rendezvous and docking technologies necessary for building a space station.
Astronaut Liu Wang, assisted by colleagues Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang, had separated the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft from the space lab about an hour and a half earlier and moved it about 400 meters (1,312 feet) away. They then maneuvered the space capsule back to the lab module for China's first-ever manual docking. They were to move back into the lab module to continue performing experiments and research, Xinhua said.
The spacecraft and lab had been joined together by an automated docking last Monday. Shenzhou-9 was sent into space June 16 from a launch center in northwestern China's Gobi desert.