With its astronaut back home and healthy, the orbital capsule that made China's first manned space mission a success began its own physical examination yesterday -- an exhaustive, part-by-part checkup to determine if everything worked according to plan.
The kettle-shaped Shenzhou 5 re-entry module, 9.2m in length and 7,790kg, came through its ordeal visibly none the worse for wear, and technicians said parts could possibly even be reused on the next Shenzhou mission, scheduled for before the end of 2005.
"The capsule came back without any damage. I think the instruments inside can be used for the next launch," Qi Faren, Shenzhou 5's chief designer, said on state television.
Shenzhou 5 returned to land early Thursday after more than 21 hours in space, depositing Lieutenant Colonel Yang Liwei on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and making China the planet's third spacefaring nation, behind the former Soviet Union and the US.
Yang, a second-generation People's Liberation Army fighter pilot and sudden hero of his countrymen, was reported in excellent health after thorough medical tests.
"All the results showed he was in good physical condition," the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily reported yesterday.
The government said Yang's official recovery period -- during which he will be monitored closely -- could be shortened from a week to as few as two days.
Yang was brushing off his celebrity in the days after his mission, saying his colleagues should also be honored -- as should the other two finalists who didn't make it into space.
"No matter which astronaut carries out the task, he stands for the whole group," People's Daily quoted him as saying.
Yang's capsule, which traveled thousands of kilometers an hour as it carried him into orbit and back, returned to Beijing far more slowly Friday -- by railroad, wrapped in camouflage cloth.
Space officials greeted it, and state television showed technicians gingerly shepherding it onto a flatbed truck. From there it made its way through the streets, escorted by lion dancers as Chinese lined the sidewalks, waving flags and holding balloons and smiling.
Shenzhou 5 was handed over to the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology later Friday, and a preliminary examination showed the engines operated "normally" for touchdown and the landing capsule itself "remained intact," the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Yang, meanwhile, said in comments released Friday that, contrary to popular belief, China's most famous piece of engineering can't be seen from on high.
"I did not see the Great Wall from space," Yang said, answering a question from a China Central Television viewer.
In a nod to the space program's roots, CCTV also showed 92-year-old Tsien Hsue-shen, the reclusive founder of China's rocketry program, exulting in Shenzhou 5's success.
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