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 with a perfect result. I'm proud of my country," said spacewalker Zhai, sitting on a chair after emerging from the module. The trio exited the module by themselves after a brief medical check and adaptation to the Earth's gravitational environment.
Liu said "before taking off, I told you the Chinese taikonauts are the best. Thank the motherland and the people."
"We felt the care of the country and people in the abysmal space. Now we have safely returned," said Jing, followed by a military solute by the trio.
The taikonauts were welcomed with flower bouquets and Premier Wen Jiabao at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) were watching their return in a live transmission. Wen said the mission was "a victory of the Chinese space and technological field and a monumental achievement in the Socialist causes".
"Your historical feat will be remembered by the country and the people," Wen said, delivering a congratulatory note from the central authorities.
Wen shook hands with technicians and scientists at the center, telling them "This was no easy task at all ... It was splendid .. Keep up with the good work".
The taikonauts will be taken to a hospital in the Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot for medical examination and flown back to Beijing on Monday for a two-week quarantine.
The successful crusade marks a critical step in China's space quest -- it is now the third country in the world to attain a spacewalk. The only two other countries are the United States and Russia.
In what many hail as a "perfect walk", Zhai tread China's first "step" in the space. Donned in a US$4 million homemade Feitian space suit, he spent 20 minutes outside the orbiter on Saturday afternoon, and excited tens of millions on the Earth when he waved a Chinese flag.
The spacecraft was blasted off at 9:10 PM on Thursday in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, where the country's first two manned space missions took off in 2003 and 2005.
It circled the earth 46 laps before descending on 1,000-square-meter parachute at Siziwang Banner in central Inner Mongolia at 5:37 PM on Sunday, where 300 search and rescue staff waited.
Peaceful exploration of space
The mission, although so far the most challenging, was high-profile and seemed bound for success before it even took off. President Hu Jintao flew to Jiuquan to personally see off the taikonauts and held an "Earth-space" phone conversation with them after the spacewalk.
Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday the spirit of those who worked for the mission shall be amplified across the nation and called the scientists and engineers to "continue to make contributions to the space industry and overall rejuvenation of the nation". He said it is the Chinese people's persistent aspiration to develop the manned spaceflight technologies for the peaceful exploration and use of the outer space.
Zhai's roaming in space comes as a crowning moment for the Chinese, who celebrates the upcoming national day on October 1 and 30 years of reform and opening up this year.
The mission headquarters said all tasks, such as the satellite data relay trial, releasing a companion satellite, retrieval of solid lubricant, and space suit test, are successful.
"The mission proves that our overall technological level has been upgraded. There are great breakthroughs in many aspects,"the headquarters announced in a statement.
"It has laid a solid scientific and technological foundation for future goals of manned space lab and space stations," it said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2008)