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Fri Jun 29, 2012 9:52PM
Female taikonaut Liu Yang (C) exits the Shenzhou 9 space capsule on June 29.

Female taikonaut Liu Yang (C) exits the Shenzhou 9 space capsule on June 29.

China's first female astronaut and two other crew members of the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft have returned safely to Earth from a 13-day mission during which they conducted a docking test. The capsule carrying mission commander Jing Haipeng, female taikonaut Liu Yang, and taikonaut Liu Wang touched down on Friday in China’s northwestern Inner Mongolia region, Reuters reported. China calls its space travelers taikonauts and not astronauts. During the mission, the crew successfully conducted one remote-control and one piloted docking with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, which was launched last September and is part of China's exploratory preparations for a space lab and permanent space station. "Tiangong 1, our home in space, was comfortable and pleasant. We're very proud of our nation," Liu Yang told CCTV shortly after returning to Earth. The mission was a key step in China’s quest to become the third country to set up a permanent space station in orbit, with the United States and Russia currently being the only countries to have done so. China announced in May that it had successfully placed its 12th and 13th navigation satellites into orbit on the Long March satellite carrier rocket. It was the first time China had launched two navigation satellites with a single rocket. China said at the time that the two navigation satellites would help improve the accuracy of its Beidou global navigation and positioning network. Beijing wants to develop its own global navigation network similar to the GPS by 2020. Since 1992, China has reportedly spent about $6 billion on its manned space program. It is vying with Japan and India to have a stronger presence in space. KA/MF/HGL
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