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Surprising Science

China Becomes 3rd Nation to Dock Spacecraft in Orbit

China has become just the third nation to dock spacecraft in orbit. The country's progress in space technology has been rapid despite being excluded from the International Space Station. 

What’s the Latest Development?

As the spacecraft Shenzhou-9 docked with the small space lab Tiangong-1, China became only the third country ever to dock two crafts in space. Perhaps more impressive is that the process was completely automated and overseen by China’s missions control. “Astronauts will live and work in the module for several days doing medical experiments along with studies of live butterflies, butterfly eggs and pupae. This first mission is just the beginning of China’s preparations for having a permanently manned space station, which they hope to have built by 2020.”

What’s the Big Idea?

At the instance of the US, China has been excluded from the International Space Station and has no presence aboard the project. Despite that, China’s progress in developing space vehicles and successfully completing orbital missions has been rapid. The station to be completed in 2020 “will weigh about 60 tons and be about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station, and just slightly smaller than NASA’s Skylab that was operational in the 1970s.” Perhaps as a result of its exclusion from the ISS, China has been reluctant to cooperate with outside powers in plannings its space missions. 

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