Chinese astronauts return home after landmark spacewalk (Lead)

September 28th, 2008 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Sep 28 (Xinhua) Three Chinese astronauts, who made history after conducting the country’s first spacewalk Saturday, returned home safely in a Shenzhou-7 module that landed in China’s central Inner Mongolia region Sunday.Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng returned to earth from a 68-hour space flight that included a 20-minute spacewalk.

“It was a glorious mission, full of challenges, but the result was perfect. I’m proud of my country,” said Zhigang, sitting on a chair after emerging from the module.

The space capsule was suspended down by a 1,000-sq-meter parachute and landed on its flank at Siziwang Banner in central Inner Mongolia, where around 300 officials waited to conduct search and rescue.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who arrived at the control centre to watch the landing, beamed with smile when the spacecraft touched ground.

The astronauts were examined by doctors and adapted themselves to the gravitation on Earth before exiting the module, the search headquarters told Xinhua.

They will be taken to a hospital in the Inner Mongolia capital Hohhot for medical examination and are scheduled to fly back to Beijing Monday.

The trio will spend around two weeks in quarantine, before meeting their family, said Zhai’s wife Zhang Shujing.

The three men were blasted off aboard a Shenzhou-7 spacecraft at 9.10 p.m. Thursday. China had sent a lone Yang Liwei in space in 2003, and sent two men on a five-day journey in 2005.

This successful spacewalk mission makes China the third to master the extra-vehicular activity (EVA) technology after the US and Russia.

During the spacewalk Saturday, Zhai wore a $4 million homemade Feitian space suit and spent 20 minutes outside the spacecraft. Tethered to the craft with two safety wires and a long electric cord providing oxygen and communications, he moved slowly along a set of handrails around the orbital module.

“I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and people of the whole world,” Zhai said. He waved a Chinese flag handed over by his companion Liu Boming, who helped the “walk” in the orbital module.

Later Zhai retrieved a test sample of solid lubricant placed outside the orbiter, as part of an experiment to test the durability of the materials.

After the spacewalk, he was congratulated by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who watched live transmission of the spacewalk from the Beijing control centre.

Hu hailed the spacewalk as a breakthrough and thanked the astronauts for their devotion and excellent work.

Other tasks of the mission included carrying out trials of satellite data relay and releasing a 40-kg companion satellite, which was left in the space with the orbital module and the extravehicular space suits.

The live telecast of the historic moment was watched by tens of millions of Chinese on outdoor screens and television sets at homes.

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