BEIJING - China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft returned to Earth on Friday, ending a mission that put the country's first woman in space and completed a manned docking test critical to its goal of building a space station by 2020.

The spacecraft re-entered Earth's atmosphere and touched down shortly after 10 a.m. in China's northwestern Inner Mongolia, with its three-person crew, including female astronaut Liu Yang.

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Beijing has hailed the nearly two-week mission as a technical breakthrough for the country's growing space program. The launch and docking exercises with the experimental Tiangong 1 space lab module were carried live on state television.


China is far from catching up with the established space superpowers, the United States and Russia, but the Shenzhou 9 marked China's fourth manned space mission since 2003, and comes as budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
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