BEIJING – Three Chinese astronauts floated into the cabin of an orbiting module Monday afternoon, becoming the first group of Chinese to enter an orbiter in space.
Jing Haipeng, followed by Liu Wang and Liu Yang, went into the space lab module Tiangong-1from spacecraft Shenzhou IX about three hours after a successful automatic docking procedurewhich was completed at 2:07 p.m.
“Shenzhou IX crew members feel great!” reported astronaut Liu Wang to the Beijing AerospaceControl Center.
Live television broadcast showed the three astronauts in blue uniform waved to the camerainside the Tiangong-1 cabin against the backdrop of a five-starred national flag and a big redChinese knot.
They are the first tenants in the 15-cubic-meter cabin of Tiangong-1, known as “HeavenlyPalace.”
The 8.5-tonne space lab module has been traveling around Earth for 262 days since it waslaunched in September 2011.
“The real test will be the manual docking attempt six days later,” said Zhou Jianping, chiefengineer of China’s manned space program.
“A manual docking, if successful, will demonstrate the country’s grasp of essential spacerendezvous and docking know-how,” he said. “It will mean China is fully capable of transferringhuman and cargo to an orbiter in space.”
A manual docking is considered as a major step forward in China’s manned space program tobuild a space station around 2020, in time for the likely retirement of the International SpaceStation.
Besides manual docking, the astronauts will conduct medical experiments and other spacetests during the current mission.
China succeeded in an automated space docking between unmanned spaceship Shenzhou-8and Tiangong-1 late last year.
The three astronauts, including the country’s first female astronaut Liu Yang, were sent intospace by an upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centerin northwest China’s Gobi dessert at 6:37 p.m. Saturday.
“China looks forward to more international cooperation in future space explorations,” said LuXinguang, a leading designer of the control system of China’s carrier rocket.