China’s Shenzhou VII space capsule has returned to Earth after a successful mission orbiting the planet.
The spacecraft touched down in the Mongolian desert to rapturous applause from mission control in Beijing. Looking well, the three astronauts emerged to wave to cameras before being given bouquets of flowers. While in orbit, the men conducted experiments said to be crucial to China’s space programme, as well as its first space walk.
Mission leader and fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang, 42, was first to emerge from the capsule, and is now set to be greeted as a national hero. “It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with a successful end,” he said. “We feel proud of the motherland.”
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who was watching at mission control, applauded warmly and called the three men heroes. “The complete success of the manned Shenzhou VII is a great stride forward for China’s space technology,” he said.