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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. [Reuters]

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 and drums.

"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 photographers.

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 1961.

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 million yuan.

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 space program.

China has also used its increasingly reliable Long March rockets to put over 50 satellites into orbit, including several for foreign international clients.

Photo session with a tiger
Shenzhou VI touches down; astronauts safe
President Hu talks to Shenzhou VI astronauts
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