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Chinese craft returns from space docking mission

AFP - Getty Images

Recovery team members check the interior of the Shenzhou VIII re-entry module on Thursday night.

AFP - Getty Images

A recovery team checks the Shenzhou VIII re-entry module which landed in the northern region of Inner Mongolia on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.

AFP - Getty Images

Recovery team members check the interior of the Shenzhou VIII re-entry module on Thursday night.

AP reports:

BEIJING — The Shenzhou 8 craft landed by parachute in China's western desert late Thursday after more than two weeks in space. It docked twice with the Tiangong 1 module, which remains in orbit, during a mission proving China capable of successfully docking by remote control. Early U.S. astronauts did so manually.

"It represents a major breakthrough for our country's space rendezvous and docking technology program," said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.  

China will conduct two more space docking missions next year, one of them manned, and plans to complete a manned space station around 2020. At about 60 tons, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the 16-nation International Space Station.

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