China spacecraft masters the art of docking
Shenzhou-8 lands safely in Mongolia after coupling with space lab twice
The unmanned Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou-8 has returned safely to Earth after giving the country its first successful docking mission.
Shenzhou-8 parachuted safely to the ground in Inner Mongolia after rendezvousing with the Tiangong-1 space lab module and docking twice, the commander-in-chief of China's manned space programme Chang Wanquan told  state news agency Xinhua.
The ship was launched at the start of November with the aim of making China the third country to master docking technology after the US and Russia, and get the country further along in its plans to put a permanent space station into orbit in 2020.
Now that the Shenzhou-8 mission has succeeded, the next step for the Chinese space programme is manned flights to space, which the country has already said  are likely to be next year.
Nine crew members including two women are already in training for the manned missions, Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Centre of China, said just before the Shenzhou-8 launch.
The landing was greeted by state officials and effusive praise from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Xinhua said.
China's vice premier Zhang Dejiang delivered a congratulatory note from the central authorities that read:
The successful rendezvous and docking between the target orbiter Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft marks a significant breakthrough in China's space docking technology, and it is also a great leap in China's aerospace technology.
It is an important milestone in the history of China's manned space programme, and a landmark achievement in China's pursuit in building a country of innovation.