Shenzhou-10: Capsule docks with space lab

China's fifth manned space mission is its longest

Three Chinese astronauts are getting ready to enter their home for the next week after their capsule docked with an orbiting state station.

State media reported that automated controls guided the Shenzhou 10 space capsule in its successful docking with the Tiangong-1 space lab Thursday. 

The Xinhua News Agency says the astronauts will later enter the module to conduct experiments. During the mission the astronauts will also conduct a manual docking between the space capsule and the lab. They will also deliver a series of science lectures from the Tiangong — part of an outreach to increase the space program's popularity among younger Chinese.

The Shenzhou-10 is China's fifth manned space mission and its longest. The spacecraft was launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket and will transport the crew to the Tiangong 1, which functions as an experimental prototype for a much larger Chinese space station to be launched in 2020. The craft will spend 12 days docked with the Tiangong.

On the heels of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's wildly popular YouTube videos from the International Space Station, the Chinese crew plans to deliver a series of talks to students from aboard the Tiangong.

The craft is carrying two men, mission commander Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang, and China's second female astronaut, Wang Yaping.

The space programme is a source of enormous national pride for China, reflecting its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world's leading nations.

China is hoping to join the United States and Russia as the only countries to send independently maintained space stations into orbit. It is already one of just three nations to have launched manned spacecraft on its own.

The space classrooms mark the boldest step so far to bring the military-backed program into the lives of ordinary Chinese and follows in the footsteps of Nasa, which uses student outreach to inspire interest in space exploration and sustain support for its budgets.

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