China's first spacewalker Zhai Zhigang gets out of the re-entry module on Sunday afternoon, September 28, 2008. [Photo: Xinhuanet]
The Shenzhou-7 space module carrying three taikonauts landed safely by parachute Sunday afternoon in China's northern grassland, after a landmark spacewalk mission that will lead the country further in its space exploration.
Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng came back from a 68-hour flight, which included a 20-minute spacewalk on Saturday.
"It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with a perfect result. I'm proud of my country," said spacewalker Zhai, sitting on a camp chair after emerging from the module. The trio exited the module by themselves after a brief medical check and minutes of adaptation to the Earth's gravitational environment.
Liu said "before taking off, I told you the Chinese taikonauts are the best. Thank the motherland and the people."
"We felt the care of the country and people in the abysmal space. Now we have safely returned," said Jing, followed by a military solute by the trio.
The taikonauts were welcomed with flower bouquets and Premier Wen Jiabao at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) were watching their return in a live transmission. Wen said the mission was "a victory of the Chinese space and technological field and a monumental achievement in the Socialist causes".
"Your historical feat will be remembered by the country and the people," Wen said, delivering a congratulatory note from the central authorities.
Wen shook hands with technicians and scientists at the center, telling them "This was no easy task at all ... It was splendid .. Keep up with the good work".
The taikonauts will be taken to a hospital in the Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot for medical examination and flown back to Beijing on Monday for a two-week quarantine.
The successful crusade marks a critical step in China's space quest -- it is now the third country in the world to attain a spacewalk. The other two countries are the United States and Russia.
In what many hail as a "perfect walk", Zhai tread China's first "step" in the space on Saturday afternoon. Donned in a 4-million-U.S. dollar homemade Feitian space suit, he spent 20 minutes outside the orbiter, and excited tens of millions on the Earth when he waved a Chinese flag.
The three taikonauts were blasted off at 9:10 p.m. on Thursday in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, where the country's first two manned space missions took off in 2003 and 2005.
Their craft circled the earth 46 laps before descending on 1,000-square-meter parachute at Siziwang Banner in central Inner Mongolia at 5:37 p.m. Sunday, where 300 search and rescue staff waited.
The mission, although so far the most challenging, was high-profile and seemed bound for success before it even took off. President Hu Jintao flew to Jiuquan to personally see off the taikonauts and held an "Earth-Space" phone conversation with them after the spacewalk.
Zhai's feat comes as a crowning moment for the Chinese, who will celebrate the upcoming National Day on Oct. 1 and the 30th anniversary of reform and opening up later this year.
"The taikonauts' triumphant return from heaven is a true joy for all the Chinese. I hope my country's space journey goes even further," wrote Wu Renshou, on the xinhuanet.com.
Premier Wen Jiabao honored the spacemen as "heroes" and said the self-reliance, cooperation and adventurous spirit, exemplified by those who worked for the mission, shall be amplified across the nation.
Families of the taikonauts were ecstatic at their accomplishment and safe returns. "I just want to give my son a big hug now," said Liu Zhisheng, father of Liu Boming.
PEACEFUL EXPLORATION OF SPACE
China initiated its manned space program exactly a decade ago. It put a lone Yang Liwei in space in 2003, and sent two men, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, on a five-day journey in 2005.
The country has engaged itself in peaceful exploration and use of the outer space, and such goals are Chinese people's persistent aspiration, Premier Wen said on Sunday.
The Shenzhou-7 mission tasks, such as the satellite data relay trial, releasing a companion satellite, retrieval of solid lubricant, and space suit test, are peaceful use of space resources.
"The mission proves that our overall technological level has been upgraded. There are great breakthroughs in many aspects," the headquarters announced in a statement.
"It has laid a solid scientific and technological foundation for future goals of manned space lab and space station," it said.
While the mission was generally successful, there were "a few lessons to be learnt," Wang Zhaoyao, spokesperson of the mission, told a press conference after the mission. A false fire alarm on Saturday scared many who watched the live broadcast, and Zhai seemed to have spent longer time than planned opening the door for spacewalk.
"It should be clearly recognized that we are still rather behind the advanced levels of achievements in other countries, and we are still far from the people's expectations," he said.
"The tasks are daunting and we need to continue to focus on our jobs," he added.
Wang said China aims to set up a simple space lab in 2011 and a manned space station in 2020. The country aims to go further in space and has set its eyes on a moon landing.
"The moon landing is an extremely challenging and sophisticated task, and it is also a strategically important technological field. It is necessary for China to achieve something in this field," he said.
Editor: canton fair