Firecrackers greet manned China spacecraft's return
Updated: 2005-10-17 19:49
China's second manned spacecraft returned on Monday after orbiting the Earth
for five days as patriotic fervor gripped the nation and the media hailed the
mission as a symbol of the country's technological prowess.
Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong (L) and Nie
Haisheng wave flowers beside the re-entry capsule of China's second manned
spacecraft Shenzhou-6 at its landing site in Siziwang Banner (County),
north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, early October 17, 2005.
Astronauts Fei Junlong, 40, and Nie Haisheng, 41, were flown to Beijing where
they were given a hero's welcome after their Shenzhou VI space capsule touched
down in the remote steppes of the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.
The two astronauts were in good health after orbiting the Earth 76 times
covering 3.25 million km (2 million miles). State media hailed the mission as a
breakthrough marking China's emergence as a major technological power.
Soon after the craft touched down at 4:33 a.m. (2033 GMT), barely 1 km (half
a mile) from its target, jubilant residents in Fei's and Nie's home towns set
off firecrackers and performed traditional dragon and lion dances, banging gongs
"The motherland is so great!" Xinhua news agency quoted Fei's
father as saying. Fei's mother wept on learning of his safe return.
State television showed the astronauts emerging unaided, pausing atop the
charred re-entry craft to wave to the recovery team, cameramen and
Tang Xianming, director of the Manned Space Engineering
Office, told a news conference that China would aim for a spacewalk by 2007 and consider putting a woman in space
in the near future.
"Let us raise a welcoming toast to our heroes," Xinhua said in a commentary.
"The two men's space journey has touched 1.3 billion beating hearts. These 120
hours have distilled a national dream of half a century.
"At this moment history is returning dignity and sanctity to the Chinese
nation. In memories of the not too distant past, we were poor, in darkness and
endured the bullying of imperialist powers. The sons of China, with their
thousands of years of civilization, were called the sick man of Asia."
Watching the touchdown from the space command center in Beijing, parliament
chief Wu Bangguo declared the mission had "raised China's international status,
our economic and technological strength, defense and national cohesion."
Colonel Yang Liwei became the first Chinese man in space when he orbited the
Earth 14 times aboard Shenzhou V in October 2003, giving China membership in the
exclusive club of countries that have put a man into space.
The former Soviet Union and the United States first sent men into orbit in
President Hu Jintao had spoken to the two astronauts by telephone at the
weekend, just days after presiding over a top-level Communist Party meeting that
spelt out the country's plans to accelerate its technological development.
China has run its ambitious space programme on a relative shoestring. Xinhua
quoted a Chinese academic as saying the cost of developing the whole Shenzhou
programme was about $2.3 billion, a fraction of the $16 billion budget of NASA,
the U.S. space agency, for 2005 alone.
Tang of the Manned Space Engineering Office said the Shenzhou VI cost 900
But state media have focused mainly on the economic benefits the space
program should reap for China's people.
"Successful flights like Shenzhou VI build cohesiveness and reassure the
people about their nation's social and economic potential," said Anthony Curtis,
a professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, who follows China's
China has also used its increasingly reliable Long March rockets to put over
50 satellites into orbit, including several for foreign international clients.