The Shenzhou 9’s manual docking with the Tiangong 1 orbital module was shown live across Chinese television.
The astronauts had been living in the Tiangong module for the past week as the country explores options for a permanent orbital space station. They manned the Shenzhou 9 early Sunday and disconnected before making their manual docking.
“This success in manual docking represents a major breakthrough in our space rendezvous and docking technologies,” said Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China’s space program. Wu said the astronauts made the docking “calmly and skillfully.”
The mission was historic for China in another way. It carrier 33-year-old Liu Yang, an air force pilot and China’s first woman in space. It also includes mission commander Jing Haipeng, 45, and crew mate Liu Wang, 43.
China hopes to launch a permanent space station around 2020 and has a stated goal of putting a man on the moon.