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: September 28, 2008, 09:33:03 AM

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updated 1 hour, 16 minutes ago

China astronauts return to Earth triumphant

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth Sunday, completing a three-day mission that included China's first-ever spacewalk.

The Shenzhou-7 re-entry capsule parachuted to a landing on the Inner Mongolia steppe at about 5:39 p.m. (0939 GMT) on Sunday.

A live television broadcast showed the three astronauts sitting in the module, with the hatch opened, re-adapting to gravity for before crawling out about 45 minutes after the landing.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, quoted medical officials saying the astronauts were all in good health.

They each walked slowly just a few steps away and sat in chairs as the nation watched on television and applauded.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was among those gathered at mission control in Beijing.

The highlight of the mission came Saturday when astronaut Zhai Zhigang emerged from the hatch of the Shenzhou-7 spaceship for a 13-minute excursion outside.

He first waved his hands to an external camera and later held a small Chinese flag, waving it in space.

The astronaut stayed close to the spacecraft, linked by tethers and always keeping one hand on railings.  Watch as astronaut waves Chinese flag in space »

Zhai returned to the interior of his capsule and closed the hatch after about 13 minutes outside.

The three-man crew launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northern China's Inner Mongolia Thursday for a three-day mission, the highlight of which was Saturday's spacewalk.

The spacewalk paves the way for assembling a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules, the next major goal of China's manned spaceflight program.  Watch as China's spacecraft lifts off »

China became the third country to send people into space in 2003, when military pilot Yang Liwei circled the earth for 21 hours.

Its second mission -- in 2005 -- had two crew members and lasted five days.

The latest mission has dominated front pages of China's state-controlled media, knocking aside coverage of China's continuing scandal involving contaminated milk.

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Pewter Report  >>  Boards  >>  Pirate's Cove (Moderators: 3rd String Kicker, PRPatrol)  >>  Topic: Chinese astronauts complete spacewalk « previous next »

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