Shenzhou-2 Comes Down To Earth
China moved a step closer to sending an astronaut into space Tuesday with the successful return to Earth of its second unmanned space capsule after a week in orbit.
The Shenzhou II, which blasted off on January 10 in China's second unpiloted space flight, landed as planned in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in the north of the country, state television said.
The official news agency Xinhua said the spaceship touched down smoothly in the central part of the region at 19:22 pm (1122 GMT).
"The shuttle accomplished all its planned experiments on space science and technology," said the agency.
No other details were immediately available. Chinese television showed no images of the landing.
The flight was among a series expected to culminate in a manned space mission, making China the world's third space power after the United States and Russia.
In a programme most experts consider to be more for political and patriotic than scientific aims, China is also known to be planning to build its own space station as early as by 2015.
Shenzhou (Divine Ship), which was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Center in the northwestern province of Gansu, was carrying a number of unidentified animals.
The state news agency Xinhua said on launch that Shenzhou II as carrying "a number of special 'passengers' ... including animals and microbial cells provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences."
"These 'passengers' are expected to join a series of experiments in space, which will be the first tests of their kind carried out by Chinese scientists," it said.
Chen Lan, an independent Chinese space analyst who runs the "Go Taikonauts" website, told AFP he expected the craft to be carrying small animals such as rats rather than monkeys.
In a mid-mission report on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency said the capsule had completed 60 circuits of its earth orbit and all scientific experiments were being carried out according to plan.
The experiments included ones on space life environment, space materials, space astronomy and physics and voice transmission.
China made its first Shenzhou test flight in November 1999. During the maiden voyage in November 1999 the craft orbited the earth 14 times before landing in Inner Mongolia 21 hours after lift-off.
Shenzhou II was composed of an orbital module, returning module and booster rockets, almost identical to how a manned spacecraft would be constructed.
It appears similar in design to design to the Russian-built Soyuz capsule, although it is 13 percent larger and could carry at least three astronauts.
A Beijing-based Western space expert said the launch had been delayed several months by niggling problems and that he did not expect the Chinese to put a man in space for two to three years.
If China managed to put a human in space it would join an elite club -- only Russia in 1961 and the United States in 1962 have succeeded.
In November, China spelled out plans to be a major player in space with a policy document shedding light on its ambitious programme to wire the world with satellites and put a man on the moon.
The White Paper reiterated China's commitment to the "peaceful uses of space" and underlined the growing demand for space technology in economic construction.
But it also suggested space played a key role in defence and national security, stressing the need to "protect China's national interests and build up the comprehensive national strength."
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China Conducts Series Of In Orbit Experiments
Beijing - Jan 16, 2001
Shenzhou-2 (SZ-2) mission was operating without a glitch, Xinhua News Agency announced on Saturday (Jan. 13) in the first mission status report. After completing 60 orbits as of Saturday, Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre (BACCC) said that the mission was running smoothly and science experiments began to collect data.