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China's Seed-breeding Satellite Returns to Earth
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China's seed-breeding satellite, Shijian-8, successfully landed in Sichuan Province, southwest China, at 10:43 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday after a 15-day flight in space.


The recoverable satellite was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest China desert on Sept. 9.


The satellite's return capsule was recovered in Suining, Sichuan Province. The orbital module will continue to orbit the earth and carry out more experiments until its battery gives up the ghost.


The satellite carried 215 kilograms of seeds of vegetables, fruits, grains and cotton, the largest payload of this kind since 1987.


Scientists from the Space-breeding Center of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science used the mission to carry out experiments aimed at discovering what happens to the germination and sprouting of plants when they are exposed to zero gravity.


After being exposed to cosmic radiation and zero gravity, some seeds may mutate and produce higher yields and improved quality when planted back on earth, scientists said.


During its flight, the satellite sent back high-definition digital images of sprouting vegetables, according to the Institute of Plant Physiology & Ecology with the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is conducting the experiment.


An official from the Ministry of Agriculture said the ministry will ask research institutes to use the seeds returned from space to develop new seeds featuring high yields, good quality and high efficiency.


Since 1987, China has carried out seed breeding tests on nine satellites and a number of new species of plant seeds have been bred in space by Chinese scientists.


Over the past four years, new types of crop developed with space-bred seeds have been planted in a total of 567,000 hectares of farmland, producing 340 million kilograms of grain and direct GDP of 500 million yuan (US$62.5 million).


The United States and Russia are also capable of breeding seeds in space.


The Shijian-8 is the 90th space flight made by Long March rockets and the 23rd time China has launched a recoverable satellite. China has chalked up 48 successful space launches in a row since October 1996.


The Xi'an Satellite Control Center is responsible for monitoring, controlling, and recovering the Shijian-8.


According to official sources, China's recoverable satellites will compete in the international market.


China launched its first recoverable satellite for science and technological experiments in 1975.


(Xinhua News Agency September 24, 2006)

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