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China meets spacecraft Shenzhou-7 back to earth
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09:59, September 29, 2008

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· Shenzhou-7, China's 3rd Manned Space Mission
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Zhang Yingshan was the first man on the ground to catch China's spacecraft Shenzhou-7 after a breathtaking "blackout" period when the re-entry module lost communication with the ground control during its return trip to earth on Sunday.

Back from a historic space walk mission, the spaceship with three astronauts onboard emerged as a green spot on the monitor screen in front of Zhang at a radar station 300 km away from the main landing area on a north China's Inner Mongolia steppe.

"Target found!" Zhang reported. He locked up the target, proudly declaring, "I'm the first one to catch it."

Optical tracking followed, capturing the image of the module, while helicopters hovered above possible landing sites.

China mobilized about 300 search and rescue workers, including air and land forces, to meet the Shenzhou-7 crew at the main landing zone on Sunday.

Part of the ground teams were technicians to check the shape and the circuit of the spacecraft before opening the door and medical staff to examine the astronauts' health conditions.

By the moment when the module parachuted down on a grassland at Siziwang Banner at 5:37 p.m., soldiers and experts were already on the way to the landing site by car or by helicopter.

Immediately after arrival, Yao Liang, deputy director of the search and rescue station at the main landing zone, started to cordon off the zone with his team.

Lighting was ready while satellite communication equipment was in place.

For Yao, the steaming metal cabin with its surface slightly burnt looked familiar but was still attractively strange. He had participated in retreating all the previous six Shenzhou spacecraft sent into space since 1999.

"I was always there but I had barely set my eyes on the astronauts," said Yao. "My job was to deal with the module. I was too busy."

Zhao En, member of the air rescue unit, was responsible for transferring the trio from the module to helicopters nearby. The spacemen were carried on chairs for safety concern.

"I was so excited that I almost yelled when I saw the astronauts," said Zhao.

Envied by his colleagues as one of those closest to the astronauts, Zhao felt nervous while standing behind the national heroes during a brief meeting with the press at the landing site. "It was like the whole world was watching us. My hands sweat."

After the astronauts left, Yao and his team moved in to conclude their day by hoisting the module to a truck.

The Shenzhou-7 spacecraft took off from northwest China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:10 p.m. on Thursday, with three astronauts onboard who accomplished the country's first spacewalk on Saturday.

Source: Xinhua

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