Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, waves next to her comrade Jing Haipeng as she comes out from the re-entry capsule of China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft. (Photo : REUTERS/ CDIC)
After a 13-day mission, China's first female astronaut and two fellow crew members have returned safely to Earth. The mission made China the third country to ever successfully dock a manned spacecraft in orbit.
"We fulfilled the first manned manual docking," mission commander Jing Haipeng told CCTV reporters. "For the country and people all across the country, thank you for your concerns."
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The three astronauts were Jing Haipeng, at 45 years old; Liu Wang, at 43 years old; and the first Chinese female astronaut, 33-year-old Liu Yang. All three are experienced air force pilots. They were visiting Tiangong 1, a prototype for a future Chinese space station.
"Tiangong 1, our home in space, was comfortable and pleasant. We're very proud of our nation," Yang told national broadcaster CCTV.
The astronauts used the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft to perform the first manned-docking procedure to Tiangong 1. Tiangong 1 is an exploratory testbed station to perfect procedures such as docking before China begins to construct its own space station to possibly rival the International Space Station.
China's state run broadcasting service, CCTV, ran a live broadcast of the landing which showed the capsule plummeting through the atmosphere before deploying a parachute and landing.
The crew was in good health and smiled and waved upon their return. However, they did sit in reclined chairs to get used to Earth's gravity once again.
The Shenzhou 9 mission's success is a huge leap forward for the Chinese space program, which now only lags behind the United States' and Russia's. Not only did it advance the actual space program, it broke social barriers in China by sending a female astronaut to space.
"Chinese astronauts have their own home in space now," Jing told China's President Hu Jintao on during a special call according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. "We are proud of our country!"