China ends second manned space mission as it began – in a blaze of publicity
BEIJING – Shown live on state television, the two astronauts emerged from their kettle-shaped capsule, grinning and waving in the predawn darkness. They climbed down a ladder and accepted bouquets of flowers from their cheering retrieval crew.The Shenzhou 6 space capsule landed early Monday in China’s northern grasslands, ending the country’s second manned space mission the way it began – in a blaze of publicity meant to burnish its global standing and rouse public support for the ruling Communist Party.”I want to thank the people for their love and care. Thank you very much,” astronaut Fei Junlong told state television as he and crewmate Nie Haisheng sat in metal chairs beside the capsule.The party’s No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, who watched the landing from the Beijing mission control center, declared the flight a success.”This will further improve the country’s international status and national strength, and will help to mobilize its people to rally around the Communist Party and work harder for the future of the country,” Wu said in a brief speech to technicians.Fei and Nie blasted off Wednesday, almost exactly two years after China’s first manned space flight made this only the third country to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.The capsule touched down by parachute at 4:32 a.m., just a half mile from its target, Xinhua said.State television showed scores of technicians monitoring the landing at computer screens in the Beijing control center. They didn’t show any reaction when an announcer said the capsule had landed but broke into cheers after word came that the astronauts were safe.Shenzhou 6 orbited the Earth more than 70 times and traveled more than 1.9 million miles, Xinhua said.The mission was substantially longer and more complex than the 2003 flight, when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited for 21 1/2 hours before his capsule landed by parachute.Yang’s mission was shrouded in secrecy, blunting its propaganda value. None of his flight was shown live on television, and he didn’t appear in public for weeks after landing.The decision to let the public in on the latest flight already has paid off in an outpouring of emotion, with ordinary Chinese declaring the mission a national triumph.Communist leaders hope the space program will shore up their own standing by stirring pride at a time of frustration over corruption and a growing gap between the country’s rich and poor.Chinese leaders have defended the program’s expense, saying it will help to drive economic and technological development.The government says the manned space program has cost a total of $2.3 billion to date – a fraction of the budget of its American counterpart.The government didn’t disclose the planned length of the flight in advance or details of the astronauts’ mission.The newspaper Beijing News said Nie and Fei would undergo 40 minutes of medical checkups after landing.”After several days of flying in space, the astronauts may look wan and sallow, so medical staff will put makeup on them to make them look ruddy,” the newspaper said.The two men were to be taken by helicopter to a local airport to board a flight to Beijing, the report said.Both will be in isolation for observation for 14 days after the mission, but family members will be allowed to visit, the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper said.The mission dominated state media last week. In a break with the military-linked space program’s usual secrecy, newspapers and television showed scenes of Fei and Nie working and sometimes playing in orbit.Scenes of Fei turning somersaults and the astronauts setting bits of food floating in zero gravity.CCTV put together a montage set to music of the astronauts’ activities on Saturday – taking their blood pressure and reading books – along with photos they had taken of the vessel’s solar panels.China has had a rocketry program since the 1950s and launched its first satellite into orbit in 1970. Its commercial aerospace agency regularly boosts satellites into orbit for foreign customers.The manned space program was inaugurated in 1992.The Shenzhou 6 is a modified version of Russia’s Soyuz capsule.China also bought Russian technology for spacesuits, life-support systems and other equipment. But space officials say all of the items launched into orbit were Chinese-made.