First Chinese Woman in Space Arrives Home
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“This is another outstanding contribution by the Chinese people to humanity’s efforts to explore and use space,” said Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier.
China’s space programme is several decades behind that of the US and Russia – which launched manned space stations in 1973 and 1971, respectively – but Beijing’s determination to boost its programme comes as the US is cutting back its investments in space. The US retired its space shuttle fleet last year.
China, by contrast, has invested about $6bn in space programmes since 1992 to catch up with its counterparts, raising eyebrows in military circles in Washington.
In 2007, Beijing shot down an old satellite from orbit without warning, sparking criticism from the international community and fears in some corners about China’s intentions in space.
During the latest space mission, the Shenzhou 9, or “divine vessel”, successfully docked with China’s orbiting module Tiangong 1, which means “heavenly palace”, a manoeuvre that is of key importance for China’s planned manned space station.
Millions of television viewers across China watched the black capsule as it fell to earth just after 10am, rolling a few times before it came to a stop in a meadow.
State media quoted the astronauts as saying from inside the capsule: “We have returned and we feel good.”
Technical staff spent nearly an hour inside the capsule before the astronauts emerged, waving and smiling, but apparently not ready to walk. Each of the three astronauts was assisted as they sat down in chairs and then were carried over to a nearby photo-op spot in a carefully choreographed process filmed by state TV.
The mission put China’s first female astronaut in space, the 33-year-old air force pilot Lieutenant Liu Yang. Hundreds of students gathered at her former middle school in the city of Zhengzhou, holding up her picture and singing the national anthem, according to media reports.
China’s most popular microblog platform, Weibo, was flooded with 600 posts a second about Shenzhou 9 in the hours right after the landing. Some bloggers have been critical of the high cost of China’s space programme and its old-fashioned patriotic zeal. But other said they were moved by Friday’s landing.
“Seeing the pictures of Shenzhou’s return, my tears all come out,” wrote one blogger from Zhengzhou, the home town of Lt Liu.
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