BEIJING • China's Shenzhou 11 space capsule landed safely in the northern region of Inner Mongolia yesterday with two astronauts aboard, completing the country's longest manned space mission.
State broadcaster CCTV showed the return capsule's separation from the Tiangong-2 space lab 393km above the Earth, and its descent through the atmosphere to its landing on the grassland of Inner Mongolia.
After it landed, ground personnel rushed to plant two flapping red flags beside the capsule, while observers applauded in China's mission control. CCTV later showed footage of astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong being carried out of the capsule and waving as staff wrapped them in blue blankets.
The manned space programme's commander-in-chief, General Zhang Youxia, announced that the mission was a "complete success".
The men spent the 33-day mission orbiting the Earth carrying out experiments, including cultivating silkworms, growing lettuce, and testing brain activity. The Tiangong-2 space lab, launched in September, is also running experiments on growing rice and thale cress.
Beijing is pouring billions into its space programme in a bid to catch up with the US and Europe. It announced in April it aim to send a spacecraft "around 2020" to orbit Mars, then land and deploy a rover to explore the Red Planet's surface.
• Shenzhou 11 was launched on Oct 17 from from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.
• The spaceflight was manned by astronauts Jing Haipeng, 50, and Chen Dong, 37.
• It is China's sixth and longest manned space mission.
• Two days after its launch, it docked with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, which had been launched on Sept 15.
• The men spent the 33-day mission orbiting the Earth carrying out experiments
In their last entry in a space diary published by the official Xinhua news agency, the astronauts wrote that they kept fit in space by doing somersaults and zero-gravity taiji. "At the end of a busy day, we have some free time before going to bed," they wrote.
"We take selfies to have some personal record of this unforgettable journey, or just go to the window and quietly stare at that beautiful blue planet called Earth."
Beijing sees the military-run programme as a symbol of China's progress and a marker of its rising global stature. The nation's first lunar rover was launched in late 2013, and while it was beset by mechanical troubles, it far outlived its expected lifespan, finally shutting down only last month.
But so far, China has largely replicated activities that the US and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago.
Among China's next moves is the launch of a "core module" for its first space station some time around 2018, before setting up a manned space station by 2022 and eventually putting one of its citizens on the surface of the moon, a senior official said in April.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE