China is the third country to dock a crewed vessel in space

Early this morning, China's manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab, becoming the third country on Earth — behind the U.S. and Russia — to do so. It brings the country one step close to having the world's only space station. On board the docking vessel were taikonauts Jing Heipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, China's first woman in space.

"We are one step closer to our destination of constructing a future space station," said a CMSE official during a broadcast on the country's state-run news network. "This is the first successful crew transportation mission for China."

This mission is a huge deal for China, whose space program has been advancing at a pretty impressive clip over the last few years, in an ongoing effort to establish itself as a globally recognized spacefaring nation. Future plans include reaching the moon and establishing a fully functional space station by 2020. The docking of Shenzhou-9 may only be the country's fourth crewed mission, but at this rate, we wouldn't be surprised if China managed to bring its ambitious plans to fruition.

The taikonauts are expected to remain in orbit for about two weeks before returning to Earth. You can read more about the mission at SPACE.com.

Top image via CNTV