(ARS TECHNICA) — Early this morning at 2:07am EDT the Chinese crew of Shenzhou-9, China’s 3-person orbital spacecraft, achieved China’s first-ever space dock with their Tiangong-1 space station. In doing so, China became the fourth entity to carry astronauts (or taikonauts) to an orbital space station, and at least a billion people celebrated.
Shenzhou, which translates roughly to “divine watercraft,” made its first flight in 1999. Since that time, China has been racking up space milestones on a consistent basis: following up with manned launches of Shenzhou in 2003, 2005, and 2008 and the launch of the Tiangong-1 module last year. For reasons that have not yet been revealed by the Chinese government, animated depictions of Tiangong’s launch were broadcast with an instrumental version of “America The Beautiful.” Other than that, there have been few anomalies.
Shenzhou resembles a Soyuz spacecraft in design, with an orbital module on one end, a service module on the other, and a re-entry module in the center, but it’s slightly larger. Both the service module and the orbital module are capable of flying autonomously, and both have solar panels for power.