China has hailed the return to Earth of its Shenzhou 9 spacecraft which carried the country’s first woman astronaut into space.
Beijing’s fourth manned space operation since 2003 touched down in the northwestern Inner Mongolia region following a mission lasting nearly two weeks.
Officials say Shenzhou 9 was critical to the country’s plans to build a full space station by 2020.
The capsule, complete with a team of three astronauts, docked with the experimental Tiangong 1 space lab.
The mission was given blanket live coverage on Chinese TV.
Premier Wen Jiabao said it amounted to another breakthrough for Chinese technology adding: “It marks an important progress made by China on the second strategic goal of the manned space flight project, which is of decisive significance.”
China’s increased space superpower status comes as the US space programme faces major budget constraints.