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Chinese astronauts (from left) Wang Yaping, mission commander Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang gesture as they prepare to board the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft in Jiuquan, China, on Tuesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese Astronauts Dock With Orbiting Space Lab

Jun 13, 2013

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A trio of Chinese astronauts has successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 space laboratory for what's expected to be a total of 15 days in orbit — the longest mission to date for China's burgeoning manned space program.

The published plan is for the three-person crew, including Wang Yaping, China's second female spacefarer, to practice docking maneuvers between their Shenzhou-10 capsule and the Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace"). The crew will also conduct medical exams and "carry out youth-oriented science education activities during two space science lectures" from orbit, according to NASA. Wang is being billed as China's "first teacher in space" and is scheduled to broadcast a lecture on Earth physics.

The three astronauts aboard Shenzhou-10 are to be the last to visit Tiangong-1, which is running low on resources for future crews. It will be replaced by Tiangong-2, set for launch sometime in the next few years.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

"China is ultimately hoping to build an international space station similar to Russia's Mir space station, a seven-module station. Russia dumped that station in 2001, joining the International Space Station project instead. ...

"Tiangong 1 will be converted into a miles-high warehouse used while the proposed space station is undergoing construction."

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