China's First Spacewalk Team Feted With Parade

China's First Spacewalk Team Feted With Parade
Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang, center, together with his family, waves after getting off the plane in Beijing, on Monday September 29, 2008, in this photo distributed by the official Xinhua news agency. The three astronauts of the Shenzhou 7 crew returned to the Chinese capital on Monday.
(Image: © AP Photo/Xinhua, Zha Chunming)

BEIJING (AP) ? Three Chinese astronauts arrived Monday inBeijing to a homecoming parade after completing China's first spacewalk andputting the country closer to building a space station and landing a man on themoon.

State broadcaster CCTV showed thethree, with flower garlands around their necks, waving and smiling as theywere slowly driven through the streets at Beijing Aerospace Center, where theydid their space training.

Holding up Chinese flags and balloons, hundreds of people,many of them uniformed soldiers, cheered and applauded as the astronauts wentby, with some shouting out, "Learn from the astronauts and salute theastronauts."

One banner read: "Warmly celebrate the great success ofthe task of the Shenzhou manned space flight."

The successof the mission now shifts the focus to building the space station and plansto land a man on the moon, said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of manned spaceflight.

He said the program is looking to launch a new orbitingvehicle and set up a simple space lab by 2011. There are also hopes of sendingunmanned and manned space vehicles to perform docking activities with thetarget vehicle.

By 2020, China wants to launch a manned mission toexperiment with technologies that will enable astronauts to take care ofspacecraft for longer periods of time, Wang told reporters at a briefing inBeijing after a parachute brought the astronauts' capsule backto ground Sunday.

"After we have successfully completed these threesteps, we will go to even more remote areas," Wang said, adding Chinahopes to send a manned mission to the moon "in the near future."

The United States is the only country to have accomplishedthat feat, putting its first astronaut team on the moon in 1969. But its lasthuman landing was in 1972, and it has since concentrated on unmanned probes.

China's communist leaders, riding a wave of pride andpatriotism after hosting the Olympics, face few of the public doubts orbudgetary pressures that have constrained space programs elsewhere. Saturday'sspacewalk was watched by cheering crowds on huge outdoor TV screens.

State broadcaster CCTV showed the astronauts' return Sundayafter their Shenzhou 7 ship's re-entry vehicle burst through the Earth'satmosphere to make a landing under clear skies in the grasslands of China'snorthern Inner Mongolia region. The vessel floated down gently while attachedto a giant red-and-white striped parachute, marking the end of the 68-hourendeavor.

"It was a glorious mission, full of challenges with asuccessful end," said mission commander Zhai Zhigang, a fighter pilot."We feel proud of the motherland."

Premier Wen Jiabao applauded at mission control in Beijingand shook hands with staff.

"This mission's success is a milestone; a strideforward," Wen said. "I would like to extend my congratulations to theheroic astronauts who successfully completed this mission."

Thespacewalk was a key step in mastering techniques for docking two orbitersto create China's first orbiting space station. Tethered to handles attached tothe Shenzhou 7 ship's orbital module, Zhai remained outside for about 13 minutesbefore climbing back inside.

China has relied heavily on homegrown technology, partly outof necessity. It has trouble obtaining such technology abroad due to U.S. andEuropean bans and is not a participant in the International Space Station.

The Chinese program is backed by the secretive military.While Beijing insists it is committed to a peaceful program, analysts point tonumerous potential applications for its technology, such as when it used aland-based missile to blast apart an old satellite last January.

 

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