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China Successfully Completes First Manned Space Flight

Chinese Astronaut Says "I Feel Proud Of My Motherland"
Beijing (AFP) Oct 16, 2003 - China's first astronaut Yang Liwei said he felt proud of his country in his first words after successfully landing in Inner Mongolia Thursday following a 21-hour space flight, state television said.

"I feel proud of my motherland," Yang said right before boarding a helicopter on his way to the Chinese capital Beijing, an anchor from the state-run China Central Television station quoted him as saying.

"The spacecraft operated normally. I felt very good," Yang added.

The re-entry capsule carrying Yang touched down at 6:23 am (2223 GMT Wednesday) in the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia around the Siziwang area some 300 kilometres (186 miles) northwest of the capital Beijing.

He was declared in good health and underwent a brief medical checkup before boarding the helicopter at 7:40 am (2340 GMT Wednesday).

Beijing (AFP) Oct 16, 2003
China completed its first manned space flight Thursday when the Shenzhou V capsule with astronaut Yang Liwei returned safely to Earth, sparking celebrations and a pledge of a new mission within two years.

The capsule landed at 6:23 a.m. (2223 GMT Wednesday) just 4.8 kilometres (2.9 miles) off target in the vast grasslands of the Inner Mongolia region some 300 kilometres (186 miles) northwest of Beijing.

Lieutenant Colonel Yang, 38, was in good health and the Beijing Space Command and Control Centre and Premier Wen Jiabao announced the mission a "complete success."

Yang exited the capsule on his own, looking dazed, and was seen on television waving following his 21-hour flight that covered 600,000 kilometres (372,000 miles).

He was immediately steered to a chair outside the module and was carried through a large crowd of jostling officials and media to a nearby van for a medical before being flown by helicopter to Beijing.

"I feel proud of my motherland," Yang said soon after landing. "The spacecraft operated normally. I felt very good."

Premier Wen congratulated him by telephone on behalf of government and military officials.

China's leaders had much riding on a successful mission, hoping it would promote patriotism, national cohesion and legitimacy for its rule and state-run television devoted extensive coverage to the "glorious" return.

Xie Mingbao, director of the China Manned Space Program's office told a news conference another Shenzhou mission would be launched "in one to two years time."

China's Aerospace Command and Control Centre gave the order at 5:35 a.m (2135 GMT) for Yang to begin his descent after he had orbited Earth 14 times.

The touchdown marked the end of a history-making flight, which blasted off from Jiuquan in northeast China at 9:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) Wednesday and made China alongside Russia and the United States the only nations to send a man into space.

Yang, a fighter pilot, is set to become a national hero after emulating Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's first flight some 42 years ago.

President Hu Jintao, who leaves for the APEC summit in Bangkok Friday, watched the blast-off at the Jiuquan Launch Center and hailed the culmination of the 11-year space program as a "historic step of the Chinese people".

After his conspicuous absence from the launch Wednesday, aging former president and military chief Jiang Zemin sent his congratulations Thursday, while Russia and the United States led praise from around the world.

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said the launch was "an important achievement in the history of human exploration".

And as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration struggles to get its own space shuttle program back on track after the Columbia disaster, O'Keefe added: "NASA wishes China a continued safe human space flight program."

US shuttle flights are not expected to resume until late 2004.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the flight "a step forward for all humankind" while astronauts in the International Space Station conveyed their own greeting: "Welcome to space."

The mission was tracked from 13 monitoring stations dotted across China, Namibia, Pakistan and Kenya and capped a highly secretive program codenamed Project 921 that has cost billions of dollars.

The Shenzhou, or "Divine Vessel," is based on the three-seat Russian Soyuz capsule, which the Soviets first launched some 36 years ago, but is better integrated with updated life-support and computer systems.

While prestige is a key component of China's desire to compete in space with other world powers, Chinese officials have admitted there are military connotations, although Beijing has played this down in recent days.

Only hours after the return of Shenzhou V, foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue reiterated that China was committed to the peaceful use of outer space.

"China is willing to closely cooperate with the United Nations and other countries on the peaceful use of outer space," Zhang said.

She said the unveiling of the Chinese and United Nations flags by Yang while in orbit was intended to highlight the pursuit of peaceful space exploration.

China will now turn its attention to setting up a space laboratory and then a space station, said Zhang Qingwei, second in command of China's space program.

China is likely to aim for a space station in 2008, and, in close contest with India, an unmanned mission to the moon the same year, experts forecast.

All rights reserved. � 2003 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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The End of the Beginning
Sydney - Oct 15, 2003
Finally, after years of preparation, China has launched an astronaut. The beginning phase of China's human spaceflight program has now come to an end. But a new chapter in the history of space exploration has just opened, writes Morris Jones

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