On Tuesday, Nov. 1., China launched the Shenzhou-8 space capsule into the same orbital plane as its Tiangong-1 prototype space station. Over the course of several Earth orbits, the capsule performed a rendezvous maneuver and slowly caught up to the space station. Eventually, when it got close enough, Shenzhou-8 made some final burns to precisely match its velocity and location with the Tiangong-1, and the two spacecraft docked, temporarily becoming one. It was the first successful space docking in China’s history.Read the whole thing for their answer, but I think it's pretty obvious. This was the next step to a lunar colony. There are many more. Progress isn't being rushed, this isn't a botched job, it's a firm foundation.
As milestones go, this could be seen as a small one. After all, China merely performed a feat that Americans achieved more than 45 years earlier (and its space station is about the size of the Salyut 1 Russia flew about 40 years ago). There was a key difference, though: While the first American docking was with a manned Gemini capsule and an unmanned Agena upper stage, the Chinese performed the entire operation with unmanned spacecraft—a feat that the U.S. had never actually performed until recently, and a tribute to the intervening decades of technological development. The question now is: What does China’s recent success say about its goals in space?
As I wrote this time last year about the "Chinese Tortoise" :
Not a new species; a description of the robust and long-term space program that China is quietly executing. One that means that the next human to land on the Moon will speak Mandarin - as will the first Lunar colonists.
This isn't a space exploration program for prestige purposes.
It's about sustainability.
It's about the long term.
It involves a commitment.
It refuses to take short cuts to meet artificial deadlines.
All the things that are lacking in the US space program.
As for the Chinese? They're right on schedule.