China spacecraft returns to Earth after docking test

November 17, 2011 14:20

An unmanned Chinese spacecraft returned to Earth successfully on Thursday after more than two weeks in orbit, marking a pivotal moment for the rising power's plans to secure a long-term manned foothold in space.

The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft touched down in northern China's Inner Mongolia region after a fiery return to Earth, a live broadcast on Chinese television showed.

The spacecraft's return is the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, alongside its growing military and diplomatic influence, at a time when budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back US manned space launches.

The spacecraft was part of China's first docking exercise on 3 November, when it joined the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module about 340 km above Earth.

The unmanned Tiangong module, which is 10.5 meters long, launched on 29 September, is part of China's exploratory preparations for a space lab.

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