China: Shenzhou return, astronauts and spacecraft doing well

China prepared Sunday for the return of the Shenzhou 6 mission, saying that the capsule was operating smoothly and its two astronauts were doing well after five days in space.

The vessel was tracked over the grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia early Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It did not give any details on when the mission was expected to touch down, but news reports have said it might be Sunday or early Monday.

Yang Guiming, a senior engineer at the Central Meteorological Observation Station, said the weather was expected to be ideal in the next two days at Inner Mongolia's Siziwangqi, the planned landing site.

The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper featured a photo of the astronauts, Nie Haisheng and Fei Junlong, transmitting digital pictures of the ship's solar panels to the Beijing command center. Both were wearing puffy blue jumpsuits and appeared to be squeezed in a small space filled with equipment and a tangle of wires.

China is only the third country to launch humans into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States a source of enormous national pride as the communist government tries to cement its status as a rising power and help prepare for the eventual creation of a space station. Shenzhou means "divine vessel."

They will each be taken to the local airport by helicopter before boarding a flight to Beijing, it said.

Both will be in isolation for observation for 14 days after the mission, but family members will be allowed to visit, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

The leadership likely trying to curb growing dissatisfaction among the people over widespread corruption and a widening gap between a wealthy elite who have benefited most from country's 25-year-old economic boom and the vast, poor majority reported AP.


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