Shenzhou 8 returns to Earth

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China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 landed in north China Thursday evening, after completing the country's first-ever space docking mission with target orbiter Tiangong-1.

The re-entry module of the spacecraft parachuted down at a landing site in Siziwang Banner (county) in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at around 7:30 p.m., marking the end of the 49-day space docking mission.

Launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 1, the Shenzhou-8 first rendezvoused and docked with the space lab module Tiangong-1 two days later.

The two joint vessels orbited Earth for 12 days and conducted another docking after a brief disengagement on Nov. 14.

The Tiangong-1, which blasted off from the Jiuquan launch center on Sept. 29, will remain in orbit to await future docking attempts with the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft in 2012.

At least one of the two docking missions will take astronauts into space, according to Wu Ping, spokeswoman of China's manned space program.

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