Astronaut celebrates birthday in orbit on Chinese record flight

A Chinese astronaut celebrated his birthday in orbit on Thursday as the flight of the Shenzhou 6 capsule entered its second day, setting a new record for the length of a Chinese space mission.

Astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng blasted off Wednesday on China's second manned space mission, a costly prestige project meant to affirm Beijing's status as a rising world power.

On Thursday, they were to carry out tasks such as opening and closing the door and removing their space suits that are meant to test the capsule's stability and the effect of passenger movement, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"Although everything is smooth so far, all scientific and technological staff need to be cautious," Xinhua said, citing aerospace experts.

Nie, a military officer and former fighter pilot, was celebrating his 41st birthday in orbit.

State television showed his 11-year-old daughter, Nie Tianxiang, singing "Happy Birthday" to him by radio from the Jiuquan rocket base in China's northwest as technicians clapped. Xinhua said Nie clapped and told his daughter: "It's marvelous around here. The earth looks beautiful."

Xinhua didn't say whether Nie would celebrate with a birthday cake, but listed the favorite foods the astronauts had on board, including beef with preserved orange peel and dried strawberries and peaches.

Early Thursday, the mission exceeded the 21 1/2 hours that astronaut Yang Liwei spent in orbit on China's first space flight in 2003.

That mission made China only the third nation that has sent a human into space on its own, after Russia and the United States, reports the AP.


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