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After 13 days in orbit, China's first female astronaut returns to Earth (+video)

The three-member crew, which includes China's first female astronaut, emerged grinning from their Shenzhou 9 space capsule.

A capsule carrying three Chinese astronauts – one that nation's first women in that role – touched down. Chip Reid reports.
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China's first female astronaut and two other crew members emerged smiling from a capsule that returned safely to Earth on Friday from a 13-day mission to an orbiting module that is a prototype for a future space station.

The Shenzhou 9 parachuted to a landing on the grasslands of the country's sprawling Inner Mongolia region at about 10 a.m. (0200 GMT). China declared the first manned mission to the Tiangong 1 module — the space program's longest and most challenging yet — a major stride ahead for the country's ambitious space program.

About an hour later, mission commander and veteran astronaut Jing Haipeng, 45, emerged from the capsule, followed by crew mates Liu Wang, 43, and 33-year-old Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut.

The three, all experienced air force pilots, were lifted on to folding chairs and appeared in good health. They smiled, waved, chatted and saluted as state television ran live footage from the landing site.

"Tiangong 1, our home in space, was comfortable and pleasant. We're very proud of our nation," Liu Yang told national broadcaster CCTV.

Space program commander, Gen. Chang Wanchuan, declared the astronauts in good health and declared the mission "completely successful."

He was followed by Premier Wen Jiabao, who said the mission marked "absolutely important progress" for the space program.

The mission had included both remote control and piloted dockings with the module and extensive medical monitoring of the astronauts as part of preparations for manning a permanent space station.

China's next goals include another manned mission to the module originally scheduled for later this year but which may be delayed depending on an evaluation of the Shenzhou 9 mission and the condition of the Tiangong 1. China has been extremely cautious and methodical in its manned missions, with more than three years passing since the previous one, and all four have been relatively problem-free.

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