Three Chinese astronauts returned to earth on Sunday after completing a mission that made China the third nation to send its astronauts outside their spacecraft and into the dangerous darkness of space on a spacewalk. The successful mission is being hailed as a national triumph in China, and the astronauts were bedecked with flowered garlands on their return and given a heroes' welcome in Beijing.
State broadcaster CCTV showed the astronauts' return Sunday after their Shenzhou 7 ship's re-entry vehicle burst through the Earth's atmosphere to make a landing under clear skies in the grasslands of China's northern Inner Mongolia region. The vessel floated down gently while attached to a giant red-and-white striped parachute, marking the end of the 68-hour endeavor. "It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with a successful end," said mission commander Zhai Zhigang, a fighter pilot. "We feel proud of the motherland" [AP].
The spacewalk occurred on Saturday, when Zhai opened the hatch of the orbital module and pulled himself outside. He
latched himself to a handrail with two safety cords and then waved to a national audience during a live broadcast of the country’s third space mission with an astronaut. “I am here greeting the Chinese people and the people of the world,” Mr. Zhai said, waving to a camera attached to the module [The New York Times].
Zhai was wearing a Chinese-made spacesuit, which was heralded as another sign of the nation's growing technological prowess. While outside the module, Zhai waved the red flag of the People's Republic of China in an exultant gesture. The spacewalk mission was considered just another step in China's ambitious space program.
China plans to build a "simple" space laboratory in 2011 and a manned station nine years later, officials said yesterday.... The ability to maneuver and work outside a spacecraft is essential to China's goal of putting an astronaut on the moon and having a permanent outpost in space, Xinhua cited Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman for China's manned space program, as saying [Bloomberg].
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