China’s unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft landed in the country’s Inner Mongolia region Thursday, ending a mission that saw the nation complete its first space docking, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The docking is a key step toward Beijing’s goal of building a space station.
Shenzhou-8 docked twice with the lab module Tiangong-1 more than 210 miles above Earth, Chinese space officials said. Shenzhou-8 - a type of capsule that would carry astronauts in a nontest situation - disengaged from Tiangong-1 for the final time Wednesday before being brought back to Earth on Thursday.
Chang Wanquan, chief of China’s manned space program, said the mission was a "complete success," and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Deijang delivered a congratulatory note from the country’s central authorities, Xinhua reported.
Tiangong-1, which China launched in September, will wait in space for two more Shenzhou docking missions - at least one of which will be manned - planned for 2012, according to Xinhua.
China launched Shenzhou-8 from the Gobi Desert on November 1.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, the first stage in a "three-step" strategy to develop its manned engineering project. The launch of the Tiangong-1 lab module was the second step. If successful, it will be followed by the last phase: to build a permanent space lab that will allow astronauts to conduct long-term space experiments.
According to Xinhua, Beijing hopes to build a space station by around 2020.
- CNN's Jaime FlorCruz and Haolan Hong contributed to this report.