June 29, 2012
China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft returned to Earth on June 29, ending a mission that put the country’s first woman in space and completed a manned docking test critical to its goal of building a space station by 2020.
The spacecraft’s gumdrop-shaped return capsule descended to Earth by parachute and touched down shortly after 10 a.m. EDT (0200 GMT) in China’s northwestern Inner Mongolia region with its three-member crew, including female astronaut Liu Yang.
Beijing has hailed the nearly two-week mission as a technical breakthrough for the country’s growing space program. The launch, landing and docking exercises with the experimental Tiangong 1 space lab module were broadcast live on state television and met with an outpouring of national pride.
Moments after the capsule landed with a thud in the barren pasture lands, ground crew rushed to open the hatch. The official Xinhua news agency reported the astronauts as saying: “We have returned, and we feel good.”
An hour later, mission commander Jing Haipeng smiled and waved as he emerged from the capsule in his white space suit. Fellow astronauts Liu Wang and Liu Yang followed to loud applause.
Their mission marked the first time China has transferred astronauts between two orbiting craft, a milestone in an effort to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space station that can house people for long periods.
The three astronauts were whisked to one side, seated in chairs and interviewed by state media.
“We are proud of the motherland,” Liu Yang said.