|Volume: 01, Issue: 15||10/22/2003|
First Chinese Astronaut Returns from OrbitA Chinese space capsule touched down on an isolated patch of the Gobi Desert Thursday, Oct. 16, successfully completing China's first manned space mission and bringing back to Earth a new hero, Lt. Col. Yang Liwei.
Shenzhou 5, or Divine Vessel 5, landed at 6:23 a.m. after orbiting the globe 14 times in a 21-hour mission, making China the third country after Russia and the United States to send a man into space.
The Shenzhou 5 spacecraft re-entered Earth's atmosphere at 6:04 a.m. (6:04 p.m. EDT Wednesday) and opened its parachute about 20 miles above the ground. It was guided by four tracking ships in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and southern Atlantic Ocean.
When it reentered the atmosphere, a Chinese tracking, telemetry and command station in Namibia transmitted the order for the spacecraft to fire its retrorockets. The Shenzhou capsule then flew over Africa and Pakistan before beginning its descent over Tibet. The heat shield was jettisoned and rockets to soften the landing fired about five feet off the ground as the capsule touched down on the desert of Inner Mongolia.
Yang launched on a Long March 2F rocket Wednesday morning, 11 years after China resumed its program to send a man into space and 42 years after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and American astronaut Alan Shepard traveled in space. China's Communist leadership gathered for the liftoff at the Jiuquan launching site 1,000 miles west of Beijing and at a mission control center outside Beijing.
"You carry the dreams of our nation into space with you," President Hu Jintao told Yang as he sat behind a glass wall minutes before takeoff.
"Thanks to you, and thanks to the people, for putting confidence in me," Yang replied.
After the Long March rocket had shot Yang's capsule into orbit, Yang radioed a short sentence back to mission control: "I feel good." By late afternoon, the capsule had completed half the mission and it was going smoothly, state-run media said.
Yang hurtled around the planet for most of the day, making a planned orbit shift in mid-afternoon. He dined on diced chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce and rice with dates and nuts, washed down with Chinese tea, and then took a three-hour "sweet space snooze," the New China News Agency reported. It said he unfurled the flags of China and the United Nations for ground control to see.
China kept secret the identity of the astronaut until the launch. Soon after, the state-run press cranked into high gear with not only his name but his life story as the Communist Party trumpeted the mission.
Yang was driven to prove he had the right stuff, the army's newspaper said. More than 1,000 air force pilots competed for the job; only 14 were selected. Two underwent training in Russia and then returned to train China's taikonauts (taikong means outer space), known as yuhangyuan in Chinese.
“Whenever this man trains, his eyes become very bright," the paper said. During five key tests to become China's first astronaut, it said, Yang scored three 100s and two 99s. To prepare for a G-force exercise, he would spin in circles on his living room floor. Every waking moment was devoted to becoming the best he could be.
Yang seems to have achieved that goal. In becoming the first Chinese man to be launched into space, he has become a hero to citizens throughout China.
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