BEIJING: China’s astronaut trio , including its first woman cosmonaut , returned to Earth safely on Friday after accomplishing the country’s firstever manual docking that helped it join the exclusive US-Russia club and took it a step closer to setting up a space station by 2020.
Watched anxiously by Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders at the control room here , the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft carrying the three astronauts had a bumpy but safe touchdown in grasslands of Inner Mongolia as it withstood severe heat and friction during the re-entry phase following a 13-day space rendezvous . The metallic parachute ejected 10 km above the earth slowing down re-entry vehicle and it landed with a big thud on the ground at a designated spot. After the touchdown of the Shenzhou-9, it took about an hour for the astronauts to emerge out from their modest re-entry capsule. Jing Haipeng , commander of the Shenzhou-9 crew , was the first to come out, followed by 33-year-old Liu Wang.
There were big cheers all around as a smiling Liu, an airforce pilot . During a brief welcoming ceremony held near the capsule, Jing said “we successfully completed China’s first manned space docking mission and we are now safely home”. “Tiangong was our home in the space. It was very cozy and comfortable. I am proud of my country,” said Liu Yang.