- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

BEIJING - Chinas first astronaut returned safely to Earth this morningwhen his craft touched down on time and as planned after 21 hours in orbit.

Beijings mission control declared the countrys landmark debut flight a success.

The craft carrying Lt. Col. Yang Liwei landed by parachute on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia in northern China at dawn, the official Xinhua news agency said. Minutes later, he grabbed the capsule hatch with his hand, pulled himself out and waved at rescuers.

“The spaceship operated well,” Col. Yang later said, according to Xinhua. “I feel very good and I am proud of my motherland.”

Within hours, Zhang Qingwei, the space programs No. 2 official, announced through Xinhua that Chinas space exploration would continue with plans for a space lab and a space station serviced by Shenzhou capsules.

Shenzhou 5 landed at 6:23 a.m., the government said. Less than two hours later, Col. Yang was in a helicopter en route to Beijing, the state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Li Jinai, the head of Chinas manned space program, called Col. Yang a “space hero.”

The completed mission was the crowning achievement of an 11-year, military-linked manned space program promoted as a symbol of national prestige both at home and abroad.

Chinas prime minister, Wen Jiabao, immediately spoke to Col. Yang from Beijing and offered his congratulations.

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