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Chinese Astronauts Return, Rejoice

October 17, 2005|From Associated Press

BEIJING — A space capsule carrying two Chinese astronauts parachuted onto the country's northern grasslands before dawn today after a five-day mission meant to affirm China's status as an emerging technological power.

Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng were "in good health" after their Shenzhou 6 capsule touched down in the Inner Mongolia region, the official New China News Agency said.

Retrieval crews had reached the landing site, and the men were undergoing medical checkups.

The astronauts were shown live on state television climbing out of their kettle-shaped capsule with the help of two technicians in red jumpsuits, then climbing down a ladder to the ground. The two smiled, waved to cheering members of the retrieval crew, accepted bouquets of flowers and sat in a pair of metal chairs placed beside the capsule.

"I want to thank the people for their love and care. Thank you very much," Fei said.

Fei and Nie blasted off Wednesday on China's second manned space mission. It was launched almost exactly two years after the first.

China is only the third country to send people into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States -- a source of tremendous national pride as the communist government tries to cement its status as a rising power and prepare for a planned moon landing by 2010 and the eventual creation of a space station. Shenzhou means "divine vessel."

Shenzhou 6 orbited Earth more than 70 times and traveled more than 1.9 million miles, the news agency said.

The mission was substantially longer and more complex than the 2003 flight, when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited for 21 1/2 hours before his capsule landed by parachute.

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