Beijing: Three Chinese astronauts safely returned to the Earth on Wednesday after a record 14-day rendezvous in space to experiment with docking technologies of a proposed space lab, marking the latest success for the Communist giant`s manned space programme.
The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft made a text book landing in Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia this morning after about 15 minutes re-entry process, amid a rare controversy over the astronauts` age and weight.
Zhang Youxia, commander-in-chief of China`s manned space programme, said the Shenzhou-10 mission was a "complete success".
All three astronauts were in good physical condition.
Nie Haisheng, commander of the Shenzhou-10 crew and a second-time space traveller, was the first to emerge out of the module, followed by Wang Yaping, the only female astronaut of the mission, and Zhang Xiaoguang.
During a brief welcoming ceremony held at the landing area, the astronauts waved to a crowd composed of military officers, the search and recovery team, and health personnel.
"It feels really good to be back home," said Nie.
"We are dreamers, and we have now fulfilled our dream," said Zhang. "Our space dream knows no boundary, and our hard work will never cease," he said.
The mission is part of China`s ambitious plans to build a space station of its own to rival Russian and American space exploits.
China is eyeing to join a select club of countries which have carried out more than one manned space missions. At present, the US and Russia are the other two nations to send independently maintained space stations into orbit.
The space mission is a source of huge national pride for the communist nation, reflecting its ambition to be among the world`s leading powers.
Wang Zhaoyao, director of China`s manned space programme office said China will continue to carry out development and construction of a space laboratory and plans to launch Tiangong-2 space lab around 2015 replacing he present Tiangong-1 orbiting the space.
China will put in orbit an experimental core module of a space station around 2018 and complete the construction of a manned space station by 2020, he said.
As the astronauts celebrated their return, officials played down speculation about weight of Nie and the age of Wang, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.