- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2012

Chinese astronauts successfully docked with and boarded their country’s small space station Monday, staffing it for the first time since it was launched last year.

The three astronauts, including China’s first woman in space, will live and work aboard the Tiangong 1 (“Heavenly Palace”) for 13 days, state media said during a live broadcast of the docking.

The manned mission is the fourth since China put its first astronaut into space in 2003.

The successful occupation of the Tiangong is the latest milestone in China’s plan to build and staff a permanently manned space station, and highlights the speed with which Beijing is catching up with the United States and Russia in space.

The Chinese plan to have their permanent station in orbit by 2020, but the Taingong 1 will not be a part of it. The Taingong 1 is an experimental module that will remain in orbit until next year, before being replaced by larger, longer-lived modules.

Last year, China for the first time launched more rockets into space than the United States, though Beijing still lags Moscow on that count.

After decommissioning the last space shuttle last year, the United States — which plans no manned spaceflights before 2017 at the earliest — is relying on Russian rockets to supply and staff the International Space Station.

China plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover. Scientists have raised the possibility of sending a man to the moon, but not before 2020.

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