China's Shenzhou-9 Mission Successful
   2012-06-29 11:27:53    Xinhua      Web Editor: Liuyuanhui

Chinese astronauts wave hands to greet welcoming crowd in Siziwang Banner of North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on June 29, 2012.[Photo: Xinhua]

Three astronauts who completed China's first manned space docking safely returned to Earth Friday morning, marking the completion of another crucial step towards building a space station.

Chang Wanquan, chief commander of China's manned space program, hailed the docking mission between Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 lab module as a "complete success."

The Shenzhou-9's return capsule landed safely at the main landing area in north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region shortly after 10 a.m. Friday. All three astronauts were found to be in good physical condition.

While in the capsule, the astronauts reported to the command center: "We have returned and we feel good."

Jing Haipeng, commander of the Shenzhou-9's crew, was the first to emerge from the return capsule, followed by Liu Wang and Liu Yang, the country's first female astronaut.

During a brief welcoming ceremony held near the capsule, all three astronauts seemed to be in good spirits, waving cheerily to the search and recovery team at the landing site.

"We successfully completed China's first manned space docking mission and we are now safely home," said Jing, who also expressed appreciation for the support of China's people.

The success of the mission indicates that China's space program is inching closer toward building a space station, as manned docking procedures are necessary to build and resupply space stations.

"Tiangong was our home in the space. It was very cozy and comfortable. I am proud of my country," said Liu Yang.

The three will fly to Beijing after taking physical exams in ambulance helicopters at the landing site.

Chinese leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang, arrived at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center Friday morning to watch the return of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft.

Wen delivered a congratulatory note from central authorities, celebrating the successful landing of the spacecraft.

Central authorities expressed congratulations to the astronauts who successfully completed this mission and all others involved in making the mission a success, said Wen.

The successful rendezvous and docking between the target orbiter Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft marks a significant breakthrough in China's space docking ability and represents decisive progress in fulfilling the second strategic target of China's manned space program, Wen added.

"It is another contribution Chinese people have made in mankind's peaceful exploration of outer space," the premier said.

On June 24, the three Chinese astronauts successfully completed a manual docking between the Shenzhou-9 and the Tiangong-1 lab module, the first such attempt in China's history of space exploration.

The spacecraft and the space lab were previously joined in an automated docking procedure conducted on June 18, two days after the three astronauts were sent into space aboard the Shenzhou-9 from a launch center in northwest China's Gobi desert.

On June 26, President Hu Jintao went to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center and spoke with the astronauts aboard the conjoined Shenzhou-9 and Tiangong-1. Hu praised the astronauts for their excellent performance during the docking.

The three astronauts also conducted a series of scientific tests during the flight.

At a press conference on June 24, Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program, said China has budgeted about 39 billion yuan (about 3 billion U.S. dollars) for the country's manned space program.

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