Taikonaut Yang Liwei blasts off from Gobi Desert

China has become the first Asian country to send a human being into space, with the successful launching of its Shenzhou V spacecraft carrying a single Chinese astronaut or "taikonaut"�from the Chinese word for space�into orbit.

Yang Liwei was blasted into orbit by a Long March 2F rocket at 0100 GMT, or 9 a.m. local time, on Oct. 15, on his way to a 21-hour flight that will entail 14 orbits, RFA�s language services report.

"I feel good," Yang said, as the spacecraft entered its first circuit around the Earth.

He later said "Hello" to all the peoples of the world, during a conversation with China's defense minister.

Yang�s flight makes China the third country to launch a manned spaceflight, after the Soviet Union and the United States more than 40 years ago.

Later, Yang also called home. "I feel very good in space, and it looks extremely splendid around here," he told his wife.

"Dear son, I caught the sight of our beautiful home [the Earth] and recorded all that I've seen here," Yang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

Millions across the country followed the flight�a key achievement for the Communist Party in drumming up nationalistic fervor amid painful economic reforms and rapid social change�on television, radio, and the Internet.

Crowds of people in the northern city of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province thronged the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the launch, Xinhua reported.

Crowds burst into emotional applause in department stores across the city when the successful launch was announced.

In the capital, ordinary people were ecstatic at the news, Xinhua said.

"Fantastic!" said Chang Fengyan, a university teacher in Beijing, on seeing televised pictures of the launch. She was almost off her feet as she was watching the rocket rising into the sky with orange flames blaring. "These people are simply great," she was quoted as saying.

President Hu Jintao, who witnessed the lift-off, spoke of the "glory of our great motherland.�

"We look forward to your triumphant return," Hu told Yang before his departure.

Yang is scheduled to touch down in Inner Mongolia at 6 a.m. on Thursday (2200 GMT on Wednesday), Xinhua said. In the afternoon of Oct.15, the spaceship successfully shifted from its initial elliptical orbit to a circular orbit 343 kms (213 miles) from Earth, an essential step for an accurate landing.

Local weather forecasts show the weather will be clear, with good visibility, low wind speeds and temperatures between minus four and minus eight Celsius.

"The weather conditions over the landing site will meet all the requirements for the return of the re-entry module of the Shenzhou V spacecraft," said Wang Yongsheng, director of a meteorological station in Inner Mongolia.

The launch won China congratulations from around the world. In the United States, NASA Administrator Sean O�Keefe welcomed the Chinese launch as "an important achievement in the history of human exploration."

"The Chinese people have a long and distinguished history of exploration. NASA wishes China a continued safe human space flight program," O�Keefe said in a statement.

Russia, the first nation to send a person into space, was also the first to congratulate Beijing. One of the first people to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, said the launch showed that the space club was no longer as exclusive as it once was.

"I hope all Americans are overjoyed with the success of the launch and do not feel that we have exclusive rights over opportunities to go into space," Aldrin said.

The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, had already wished China a successful flight on the eve of the launch.

Yang, a lieutenant colonel in the People�s Liberation Army, was chosen from a pool of 14 as the country�s first taikonaut. The son of a teacher and an official at an agricultural firm Yang was raised in the northeastern "rustbelt" province of Liaoning.

"We are proud of him," his brother-in-law told Reuters just minutes before the launch. "We don�t worry about his safety because we trust the nation�s advanced technology."

Part of that technology was directed at preserving the taste of home cuisine for the first Chinese person in space. Yang will be eating specially designed packets of shredded pork with garlic and "eight treasure" rice, washed down with Chinese herbal tea, state media said.

Mao Zedong launched China�s space program in 1958. China was quickly left far behind in the Cold War "space race" rivalry that saw the United States put a man on the moon in 1969.

Some were already asking themselves about the implications for Chinese culture. "Space has finally opened its doors to the 1.3 billion Chinese people who have for thousands of years been in the grip of Confucianism," Xinhua quoted Shanghai-based science fiction author Han Song as saying.

"What will this bring to us? What impact will it have on our minds and our perceptions of the world? That deserves deeper thought than the success of space technology," Han said.

Huang Dong, a Macao-based military analyst, dismissed the notion that the United States should fear China overtaking it in space technology and exploration.

�While the Shenzhou V spacecraft has much better capabilities than America�s first manned spacecraft of many years ago, China still has a long way to go�at least 10 or 20 year just to approach where the United States is now,� Huang told RFA�s Mandarin service.

Zheng Yushuo, a political science professor at Hong Kong City University, noted that China�s neighbors would surely prompt worries closer to home.

�China�s space program will certainly draw concern from Japan and India,� Zheng said. �In fact, facing North Korea�s [nuclear] threat, Japan is now in close cooperation with the United States in developing strategic missile defense plans in addition to its plans to launch four reconnaissance satellites this year.�

�These satellites will also monitor China at the same time. India is in the same situation. With its more developed economy in recent years, India will put considerable resources into developing space and nuclear weapon programs in hopes to boost its power and elevate its world status.�

For more news and views on China�s launch :

China's Space Activities: A White Paper

First Woman in Space praises China's manned launch coverage of the launch


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