China's third unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou III, landed safely in central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Monday afternoon, after orbiting the earth 108 times in slightly less than a week.
The craft, which lifted off from Jiuquan in northwest China's Gansu Province last Monday night, landed at 4:51 pm after successfully conducting a chain of flight and scientific experiments over a period of 162 hours, said Hu Shixiang, vice-director of China's national manned space program.
President Jiang Zemin, who is now on an inspection tour outside Beijing, sent a message of congratulations on the successful return of Shenzhou III in a telephone call to Cao Gangchuan, head of the General Armaments Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and chief director of the national manned spacecraft program.
Jiang expressed congratulations on the successful launch, normal operation and safe return of the space vehicle.
Jiang, who is also general-secretary of the Communist Party of China, encouraged all those who are participating in the program to work even harder, in order to ensure the success of the upcoming launch of the fourth spaceship and subsequent space program activities.
The president was at Jiuquan when the space vehicle was launched on March 25.
The metabolic simulation apparatus, human physical monitoring sensors and dummy astronauts installed aboard the spaceship worked well, indicating China's spacecraft environment control and life support system is ready for manned space flights, said a spokesman at the Beijing Aerospace Direction and Control Center, the nerve hub of China's space program.
The spokesman, who preferred not to be identified, did not say when such a manned flight will be realized.
At 4:03 pm Monday, when Shenzhou III was flying over the north Atlantic, Yuanwang III, one of China's four vessels stationed at sea around the world to track the space mission, signaled to the spacecraft to return to earth.
The returning module then detached itself from the orbital module to return to its preset destination in Inner Mongolia, according to the spokesman.
The orbital module will continue circling the earth for several months, according to scientists at the Beijing center.
A team from the Xi'an Satellite Monitoring Center in northwest China's Shaanxi Province locates the capsule after it landed. Scientists opened the recovery capsule at the landing site, and removed a cell reflector and protein crystal device, which were taken to a special plane immediately and flown to Beijing, according to the spokesman.
The returned capsule will be transported to Beijing within a couple of days, where scientists will analyze and study scientific instruments and experimental samples carried in the capsule.
Already scientists conducted biological, space material, space astronomy, space physics and micro gravity research experiments when the spacecraft was in orbit, he said.
Like the previous two Shenzhou spacecraft, the Shenzhou III was made by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and the Shanghai Research Institute of Astronautical Technology, and was blasted into space aboard China's powerful Long March 2F rocket.
Since 1999, China has successfully launched and recovered three unmanned spacecraft, paving the way for China to become only the third nation in history to launch a human being into space -- following Russia, which was the first, and the United States.
(China Daily April 2, 2002)