BEIJING, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- President Hu Jintao, who is currently away on a European visit, sent a congratulatory message on the success of China's first ever space docking.
The rendezvous and docking maneuver between the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 and the orbiting space lab module Tiangong-1 was completed at 1:35 a.m. Thursday, about 343 km above earth.
The success of the mission means China has become the third country after the United States and Russia to master the technology, which will be crucial to China for building a permanent space station in around 2020.
"Breakthroughs in and acquisition of space docking technologies are vital to the three-phase development strategy of our manned space program," Hu said in the message.
Hu said he wishes all the program participants to try all out to fulfill a complete success of the whole mission after the smooth docking.
China sent Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 into space on Nov. 1 and Sept. 29, respectively. The two vehicles' docking marks the completion of the second phase of China's manned space program, which was initiated in 1992.
Space rendezvous and docking refers to linking up two vehicles traveling at high speeds in orbit, which is "fairly difficult and risky," space experts said. Both the U.S. and Russia mastered the technology more than four decades ago.