September 29, 2008

Chinese Astronauts Make a Jubilant Return

THREE Chinese astronauts emerged from their capsule yesterday upon a jubilant return to Earth after successfully completing the country's first-ever spacewalk mission.

State broadcaster CCTV showed their Shenzhou 7 spaceship landing under clear skies in the grasslands of China's northern Inner Mongolia region at 5:37pm (1037 BST).

Premier Wen Jiabao applauded at mission control in Beijing.

"The astronauts feel very good," mission commander Zhai Zhigang said as the vessel floated down to Earth under a red and white striped giant parachute.

After landing, the astronauts sipped bottled water as they were given medical examinations inside the module. They stayed inside for about 46 minutes to adapt to Earth's gravity before slowly crawling out of the narrow entrance.

"It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with a successful end," Mr Zhai said. "We feel proud of the motherland."

Saturday's space walk, which was broadcast live, further stoked national pride one month after the close of the Beijing Olympics.

The spacewalk was mainly aimed at testing China's mastery of the technology involved.

China is also pursuing lunar exploration and may attempt to land a man on the moon in the next decade - possibly ahead of Nasa's 2020 target date for returning to the moon.

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.