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China celebrates as astronauts come back down to earth

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China celebrates as astronauts come back down to earth

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It was the moment the most populous nation in the world had been waiting for, and a huge cheer went up as China’s two astronauts came back down to earth.

After five days in orbit, the country’s second manned spacecraft, Shenzou VI, landed safely in Mongolia. The two-man crew are now national heroes – the mission had aroused a wave of patriotism approaching fever pitch. It was just two years ago that China became the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to put a man in space. Now Beijing says this second mission confirms its technological progress and it plans to accelerate its space programme with a third manned launch – this time including a spacewalk – in 2007. China is fast becoming a major player in the satellite launch industry – the increasingly reliable Long March rockets have already sent 50 into orbit, many for foreign clients. The country also hopes to establish a space station within the next five years.