China launches unmanned spacecraft on 1st docking mission

China's Shenzhou-8 blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on November 1.

Story highlights

  • China's unmanned Shenzhou-8 launched early Tuesday
  • The spacecraft will attempt to dock with an orbital module launched in September
China launched an unmanned spacecraft early Tuesday in its first attempt to dock with another vessel in Earth orbit, a key step toward building a space station.
The Shenzhou-8 mission successfully lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China shortly before 6 a.m. (6 p.m. Monday ET), a launch carried live on Chinese state television. A huge cheer broke out among mission controllers when the spacecraft reached orbit and its solar panels deployed.
The plan is for Shenzhou-8 to dock with the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 laboratory module, which was launched in late September. Tuesday's launch is the second phase of a test of space rendezvous and docking capabilities, essential for the operation of a manned space platform.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003.