China has successfully returned three astronauts – including its first woman in space – to Earth after a 13 day mission to its ‘Tiangong’ space station.
The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft returned on Friday, landing in the barren fields of north-west Mongolia via parachute.
Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space, landed with Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang just after 2am BST.
“We have returned, and we feel good,” China’s state news agency quoted the astronauts as saying.
The capsule returned after a successful mission which has been seen as a technical milestone for the Chinese space program.
The capsule’s docking with the experimental Tiangong module, known as ‘Heavenly Place’, was the first time that China has managed to transfer astronauts between two space vehicles. The launch and docking were broadcast live on national TV.
“Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9, in the task of manned rendezvous and docking, have achieved complete success,” said premier Wen Jiabao.
“This is another outstanding contribution by the Chinese people to humanity’s efforts to explore and use space.”
It is thought China is planning to build a full space station to compete with the International Space Station run by the United States, Russia and several other national space agencies.
It has also announced its intention to send astronauts to the Moon after 2020.
Meanwhile NASA will not have its own rocket to send astronauts into space until 2017, and is increasingly relying on private companies like SpaceX and others to supply the ISS.
By Michael Rundle
June 29, 2012