China's Space Race: 3 Astronauts, Including First Woman, Return To Earth After Shenzhou 9 Manned Historic Dockings

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Three Chinese astronauts, including the first woman, returned to Earth after their manned spaceship successfully docked to another craft in orbit.

The Shenzhou 9 space capsule safely parachute landed about 10 a.m. Beijing time Friday in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, following a 13-day mission that marked a major stride in China's ambitious space program.

The flight saw China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, go into space. She was accompanied on the mission by veteran astronaut and commander, Jing Haipeng, 45, and crew mate Liu Wang, 43, who served as the Shenzhou 9 docking pilot.

Tiangong 1, our home in space, was comfortable and pleasant. We're very proud of our nation, Yang told national broadcaster CCTV, referring to the 8.5-ton space-laboratory module that was launched in September 2011.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said the mission marked absolutely important progress for the country's space program, according to USA Today.

The mission, which launched into space on June 16, included displays of manual and automatic dockings. The successful linkups made China the third country, after the United States and Russia, to accomplish manned dockings in orbit. The nation hopes to construct a space station in orbit by 2020.

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