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Chinese spacecraft successfully docks with orbiting capsule

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 12:45 a.m. MDT

In this photo released by the Galapagos National Park Direction, DPNG, the body of the famed Galapagos giant tortoise Lonesome George is removed on stretcher from a corral at the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Sunday, June 24, 2012. The Galapagos National Park says in a statement that the tortoise estimated to be about 100 years old died Sunday. Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George over the years in unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive. (AP Photo/Galapagos National Park Direction)

BEIJING — A Chinese spacecraft carrying three astronauts carried out a manual docking with an orbiting module on Sunday, a first for the country as it strives to match American and Russian exploits in space.

The Shenzhou 9 capsule completed the maneuver with the Tiangong 1 module shortly before 1 p.m. The docking was shown live on national television. It follows a docking last week that was carried out by remote control from a ground base in China.

The Chinese astronauts have been living and working in the module for the past week as part of preparations for manning a permanent space station. They returned to the Shenzhou 9 capsule early Sunday and disconnected in preparation for the manual re-connection.

The crew includes 33-year-old Liu Yang, an air force pilot and China's first female space traveler.

Liu is joined by mission commander and veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng, 45, and crew mate Liu Wang, 43.

Their mission, which is expected to last at least 10 days, is China's fourth manned mission. Shenzhou 9 launched June 16 from the Jiuquan center on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China.

China is hoping to join the United States and Russia as the only countries to send independently maintained space stations into orbit.

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