Photograph by STR/AFP/Getty Images.
China has achieved its latest major milestone on its way toward its goal of building a space station by the end of the decade.
The Communist nation's Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft successfully docked with an unmanned orbiting space module on Monday, a move that was broadcast live on Chinese television and one that further cements the country's status as an emerging space power. The United States and Russia are the only two other nations to have executed such a maneuver.
The Shenzhou-9 (rough translation: "Divine Vessel") blasted off into space on Saturday carrying a three-person crew that included China's first female astronaut. The craft linked up with the Tiangong module ("Heavenly Palace") at around 2 a.m. ET on Monday morning, and the three astronauts passed from the former to the latter about three hours later.
All three are members of the Communist Party of China and former pilots with the People's Liberation Army, according to Space.com. The New York Times reminds us that the Soviet Union sent the first woman into space in 1963, and the United States matched that mark two decades later when Sally Ride reached orbit aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
According to state-run news media, Liu Yang was selected as part of a process that determined that China's first woman in space should be married, preferably with a child. Yang will reportedly be in charge of medical experiments during the mission.