Friday, June 29, 2012

Chinese astronauts return to earth

Three Chinese astronauts have returned safely to earth after a 13-day space mission, landing in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. 

Chinese astronauts, from left, Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang, wave after coming out of the re-entry capsule, right, of Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in Siziwang Banner of north China's Inner Mongolia Photo: AP
Their landing capsule parachuted to earth just after 10 o’clock in the morning local time, somersaulting once before coming to a halt. “We have returned, and we feel good,” the astronauts reported to the command centre.
State television broadcast the re-entry and a helicopter quickly arrived at the site in Siziwang county, roughly 60 miles from Hohhot, the Inner Mongolian capital.
The three astronauts, including China’s first female in space, Liu Yang, 33, rested inside the capsule for around an hour to acclimatise to earth’s atmosphere, while medical staff attended to them.
The craft’s exterior had been charred black upon re-entry, but all three of its occupants appeared in good health and eventually emerged smiling, waving and saluting. The captain of the mission, 45-year-old Jing Haipeng, exited first, followed by 43-year-old Liu Wang.
After a short pause, there was applause for Ms Liu, who came out last. 
“Females have a harder time adjusting to gravity than males,” said a commentator on China Central Television. “Of course their muscles are less strong”.
The three astronauts were then taken to Beijing by helicopter for a medical assessment.
"The Tiangong [module] was our home in the sky, it is cosy and comfortable," said Ms Liu, as the three astronauts sat in folding chairs just outside the landing capsule. "I am proud of my country".
"It feels so good to have my feet on the ground and to be home," said Mr Liu
The crew successfully carried out China’s first manual space docking, joining their Shenzhou 9 space craft to the orbiting Tiangong-1 module and then entering the module and staying there for most of their 13 day trip.
The manoeuvre, first carried out by the Americans and the Russians in the 1960s, requires a delicate touch: both vessels were moving at thousands of miles per hour around the Earth. It was the main goal of China’s fourth manned space trip; the first mission since a spacewalk in 2008.
There is immense national pride in China for its space programme and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, said the mission had been a triumph of “new socialism” guided by Hu Jintao, the president. Mr Wen watched the landing from the command centre, and applauded enthusiastically.
As China steps up its exploration of space, the United States has said it will not test a new rocket to take astronauts into space until 2017. Instead, Nasa has begun investing in private firms that will provide commercial space flight services. Russia, the world’s other major space superpower, has said manned missions are no longer a priority.
Earlier this week, the Chinese government said the total cost of its space programme, from 1992 to the end of the next Shenzhou mission, will be around 39 billion yuan (£3.9 billion). 

 By Malcolm Moore in Beijing

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