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China First Manned Space Mission Returns to Earth - 2003-10-16


China's first man in space has returned to Earth in a mission Chinese space officials describe as a success.

Astronaut Yang Liwei touched down early Thursday in China's Inner Mongolia after orbiting the Earth 14 times in about 20 hours.

The mission made China the third country in history to send a man into orbit, after Russia and the United States.

Officials say Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke with the astronaut after the landing and congratulated him.

Many other countries, including the United States, Russia, Japan and Britain, have also applauded the endeavor.

Thousands of people gathered Wednesday to watch the launch of the Shenzhou Five spacecraft from China's northwest Gobi desert.

Many Chinese citizens are calling astronaut Colonel Yang a national hero, saying they are proud China was successfully able to put a man in space. Colonel Yang is a 38-year-old fighter pilot.

The flight comes 42 years after the Soviet Union put the first man into space in April, 1961. The United States sent a man into space three weeks later.

Although much of the technology used in the Shenzhou Five mission is decades old, China hopes the successful launch will help it gain international prestige.

China kept details of this launch secret, saying in advance only that the launch would take place between Wednesday and Friday. Colonel Yang's name was kept a secret until a few hours before the launch.

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