China's second manned space mission ended successfully Monday morning, a feat that a senior Chinese leader declared a victory for the Communist Party and a boost to the country's status as a space power.
The pre-dawn landing of the Shenzhou 6 capsule on the country's northern grasslands was shown live on television as part of a propaganda effort meant to rouse support for the ruling party.
Scenes of astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng emerging smiling and waving were shown throughout the day on television, sparking an outpouring of patriotic excitement about China's growing technological might.
"It's really incredible and we're all filled with pride," said Li Guoqiang, a Shanghai electrician. "It's about developing and expressing our national strength."
Fei and Nie were flown to Beijing, where they received a hero's welcome, riding in an open car in a parade past thousands of cheering soldiers at a military base, reports the AP.
According to Times Online, State television showed the two astronauts clambering out of their capsule unaided, before standing and waving to journalists.
"The motherland is so great!" Xinhua quoted Fei’s father as saying.
Xinhua offered its own commentary on the space mission. "Let us raise a welcoming toast to our heroes," the agency said. "The two men’s space journey has touched 1.3 billion beating hearts. These 120 hours have distilled a national dream of half a century.
"At this moment, history is returning dignity and sanctity to the Chinese nation. In memories of the not too distant past, we were poor, in darkness and endured the bullying of imperialist powers."
Tang Xianming, director of China's Manned Space Engineering Office, told a press conference that China would now aim for a spacewalk by 2007 and would consider putting a woman in space in the near future.
Watching the landing from the space command centre in Beijing, Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the National People's Congress, said the mission had "raised China’s international status, our economic and technological strength, defence and national cohesion".