China space capsule returns to Earth
Updated: 2005-10-17 09:10
Two astronauts on China's second manned space flight landed before dawn
Monday, shown live on state television as they emerged from their capsule
smiling and waving at the end of a five-day mission meant to burnish China's
Astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng were "in good health" after the
Shenzhou 6 capsule touched down by parachute at 4:32 a.m. local time in China's
northern grasslands, just a half-mile from its target, the official Xinhua News
Agency said. They were met by crews who rushed to the site in helicopters and
State television showed the astronauts climbing out of their kettle-shaped
capsule with the help of two technicians and clambering down a ladder in the
predawn darkness. They smiled, waved to cheering members of the ground crew,
accepted bouquets of flowers and sat in a pair of metal chairs beside the
"I want to thank the people for their love and care. Thank you very much,"
Fei and Nie blasted off Wednesday from a base in China's desert northwest,
almost exactly two years after the first Chinese manned space flight made this
only the third country to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and
the United States.
In contrast to this week's mission, China's first manned space mission was
shrouded in secrecy, with none of it broadcast live, a decision that blunted the
effort's publicity value.
Chinese leaders apparently hope the greater openness will stir patriotic
pride, wrenching economic change and a growing gap between the country's
rich and poor.
The country's No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, who watched the landing from the
Beijing mission control center, declared the flight a success.
"This will further improve the country's international status and national
strength, and will help to mobilize its people to rally around the Communist
Party and work harder for the future of the country," Wu said in a brief speech
State media showed playful scenes of Fei and Nie in orbit, turning
somersaults and setting morsels of food floating in zero gravity.
On Monday, state television showed technicians at the Beijing control center,
once a closely guarded secret. The technicians displayed no reaction when an
announcer said the capsule had landed but broke into cheers after word came that
the astronauts were safe.
After a snack of noodles, tea and chocolate, Fei and Nie set off by
helicopter for a local airport, the agency said. Earlier reports said they were
to fly from there to Beijing.
A commentator on state television quoted one astronaut as saying the first
thing he wanted was a hot shower, a steak and a glass of red wine.
Shenzhou 6 flew 2 million miles in 115 hours and 32 minutes in space, Xinhua
The mission was substantially longer and more complex than the 2003 flight,
when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited for 21 1/2 hours before his capsule landed by
Chinese leaders have defended the space program's expense, saying it will
help to drive economic and technological development.
The government says the manned space program has cost $2.3 billion to date ¡ª
a fraction of the budget of its American counterpart.
The government did not disclose the planned length of the Shenzhou 6 flight
in advance or details of the astronauts' mission.
Fei and Nie will be in isolation for observation for 14 days after the
mission, but family members will be allowed to visit, the Beijing Youth Daily
The two astronauts are both military men, former fight pilots and Communist
China has had a rocketry program since the 1950s and launched its first
satellite into orbit in 1970. Its commercial aerospace agency regularly boosts
satellites into orbit for foreign customers. The manned space program was
inaugurated in 1992.
The Shenzhou 6 is a modified version of Russia's Soyuz capsule and China
bought Russian technology for spacesuits, life-support systems and other
equipment, but space officials have said all the items launched into orbit were
The newspaper Beijing News said Nie and Fei would undergo 40 minutes of
medical checkups after landing.
"After several days of flying in space, the astronauts may look wan and
sallow, so medical staff will put makeup on them to make them look ruddy," the