China brought three astronauts back to Earth with a hero’s welcome after they completed the nation’s most complex and longest mission in orbit, putting the framework in place to build a space station by the end of the decade.
The Shenzhou 9 voyage lasted 13 days and saw a woman travel for the first time in China’s history, AFP reported. The crew landed in a charred return vessel in a remote part of northern China on Friday, rolling over in the craft after floating back to Earth in a parachute. The events were broadcast live on China’s state-run television, with millions watching as the astronauts spent an extra hour inside the capsule while medical workers checked their conditions, AFP reported.
“This is… another outstanding contribution by the Chinese nation to human exploration and the use of outer space,” Premier Wen Jiabao said in a statement representing all the top leaders. “It has profound significance in enhancing China’s comprehensive power and inspiring the national spirit.”
When the astronauts finally emerged in their white space suits they smiled and waved, giving thumbs up signs before reading patriotic statements, the report said.
The mission was seen as important step for China’s space exploration efforts. The mission included successful displays of manual and automatic docking and also tested the technology needed to build an orbiting space station by 2020, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
China launched the Shenzhou 9 on June 16, making it the first manned space rendezvous for the nation, the Christian Science Monitor reported. China is now the third country to accomplish manned dockings in orbit, joining the United States and Russia.
Video of the astronauts landing home in China (courtesy of CBS):