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China Launches Space Docking Mission

BEIJING, Oct. 31 (UPI) — China says a spacecraft launched from the Gobi Desert will attempt the country’s first space docking with a capsule already orbiting the Earth.

A rocket carrying the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft blasted off and the spacecraft will rendezvous with the Tiangong 1 space capsule that was launched in late September and has already been maneuvered into position, the BBC reported.

The docking maneuver, set for two days after the launch, is a step toward China’s plans to build an orbiting space station by 2020.

Shenzhou 8 was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province at 4:58 EDT.

There will be two further attempts to dock with the capsule next year, at least one of which will be manned, and astronauts — taikonauts in China — are being trained for the mission, Chinese space agency officials said.

“The mastering of rendezvous and docking technologies will lay a key technical foundation for China’s building of a space station and deep-space exploration,” Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program, told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

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