Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China completes space mission

NATIONALIST FERVOR The success of the country's first manned space flight is expected to spur on the nation to more ambitious goals such as developing a space lab

REUTERS , BEIJING

Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei waves from a trailer after emerging from the Shenzhou V capsule in Inner Mongolia yesterday. China successfully completed its manned space flight as Yang safely returned to earth.

PHOTO: AFP

Looking slightly dazed at all the fuss, China's first man in orbit returned to a hero's welcome yesterday, completing an historic odyssey and fuelling the country's more ambitious dreams of a space station or space walk.

Yang Liwei (楊利偉)emerged from the Shenzhou V (神舟五號)capsule and waved, drawing cheers from the horde of 600 locals, recovery workers and police who greeted him on the chill, sunlit steppes of Inner Mongolia.

Suspended from a giant parachute, the bronze-colored capsule carrying the taikonaut, coined from the Chinese word for space, touched down at around 6.23am after a 21-hour journey that took him around the world 14 times.

Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) sent immediate congratulations, hailing the mission as a "complete success" after a chat with Yang, whose mission came four decades after the Soviet Union and the US pioneered manned space flight.

The 38-year-old former fighter pilot, raised in China's decaying northeast "rust belt," received flowers and ribbons from well-wishers and was then carried in a chair to waiting doctors for a checkup.

"The spacecraft operated smoothly. I'm feeling good. I'm proud of my motherland," Yang said before being whisked off for a flight to Beijing.

His return brought a triumphant climax to China's maiden space voyage, four decades after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and American astronaut Alan Shepard pioneered manned flight in 1961.

The mission marked the crowning moment for a program launched by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in 1958 but quickly left far behind in the Cold War "space race" rivalry that saw the US put a man on the moon in 1969.

A year later, in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, China launched its first satellite which orbited the Earth beaming out the propaganda anthem "The East is Red."

Yang's feat highlighted the emerging power of China, a permanent UN Security Council member now pursuing more active diplomacy, one of the world's fastest growing economies and chosen host of the 2008 Olympics.

"Our space hero Yang Liwei walked out of the capsule himself," mission commander Li Jinai said.

"Our country's first manned space flight achieved complete success," Li added, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Space officials, this mission under their belt, outlined future space ambitions yesterday and held out the prospect of cooperating with foreign partners.

Shenzhou VI would take to the heavens in the next one or two years, and future forays would include sending an astronaut on a space walk, docking two spacecraft and developing a "space lab," Xie Mingbao, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told a news conference.

In a mission that appeared to run like clockwork, a Long March 2F China lifted off into a clear blue sky over the Gobi desert at 9am on Wednesday and entered its predetermined orbit 10 minutes later.

Yang punctuated his journey with updates on his condition -- variations of "I feel good" -- the last of the voyage coming as the capsule floated to the ground after re-entry.

He spoke to his wife as the Shenzhou, or "Divine Ship," started its eighth circuit around the Earth, assuring her from space: "I feel very good, don't worry."

His son, who also talked to his father in space, had become the "instant envy" of his classmates, giving him bragging rights as the only student in China to be able to claim: "My dad is an astronaut."

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