JIUQUAN, China — A Chinese spaceship carrying a three-person crew has docked with China's new space station at the start of a three-month mission, marking a milestone in the country's ambitious space program.
The Shenzhou-12 craft connected with the Tiangong space station module about six hours after takeoff Thursday. According to CNN, the station is still under construction at low-Earth orbit.
The crew will carry out experiments, test equipment, conduct maintenance and prepare the station for receiving two laboratory modules next year. CNN reports that the mission will include two long-duration spacewalks.
After three more crew launches and two launches of lab module pieces, China hopes to complete the space station's construction by late 2022.
According to the BBC, China is developing its own space station because it has been excluded from the International Space Station project — a coalition of the U.S., Japan, Canada, Russia and European nations.
According to the BBC, China says it will cooperate with other nations in its space station project.
The mission brings to 14 the number of astronauts China has launched into space since 2003, becoming only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.