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China's 3rd Manned Spacecraft Returns After Spacewalk Mission

The Shenzhou-7 space module carrying three taikonauts landed safely by parachute on Sunday afternoon in China's northern grassland, after a landmark spacewalk mission that leads 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 but the result is perfect. I'm proud of my country," said Zhai Zhigang, sitting on a chair after emerging from the module.

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

Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrived at the control center to watch the landing, clapped hands and beamed with smile when watching the spacecraft touch the ground.

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

They will be taken to a hospital in the Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot for medical examination and are scheduled to fly back to Beijing on Monday. The trio have to spend about two weeks in quarantine before meeting their family, said Zhai's wife Zhang Shujing.

The three men, all born in 1966, were blasted off at 9:10 PM on Thursday on the country's third space crusade. China put a lone Yang Liwei in space in 2003, and sent two men on a five-day journey in 2005. The successful spacewalk mission makes China the third to master the extravehicular activity (EVA) technology following the United States and Russia.

During the spacewalk on Saturday, Zhai wore a hulking 4-million-U.S.dollar 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.

"Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. 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 center. Hu hailed the spacewalk as a breakthrough and thanked the taikonauts for their devotion and excellent performance. He inquired the taikonauts of their health and lives in space through a phone.

Other tasks of the mission included carrying out trials of satellite data relay and releasing a 40-kilogram 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 and met with applauses and cheers by crowds before downtown outdoor screens and office television sets.

(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2008)

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