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Chinese space capsule lands safely

A Chinese space capsule with three astronauts has landed safely on the country's northern grasslands after a 15-day trip to a prototype space station, marking the latest success for its manned space programme as it enters its second decade.

The Shenzhou 10's descent module landed by parachute in the vast territory of Inner Mongolia early today with the three crew members smiling and waving on live television after wriggling through the blackened capsule's narrow hatch.

"Space is our dream, the fatherland is our home. Thanks to all compatriots who supported us and best wishes for the wealth and success of our fatherland and the ever greater happiness of our people," mission commander and two-time space traveller Nie Haisheng said to the cameras.

Wang Haiping, China's second female astronaut to complete a mission, said the trip had been especially worthwhile for the opportunity to conduct China's first science class in space, beamed live to 60 million schoolchildren across the country.

"I hope all our young friends may wish beautiful dreams and may their dreams come true," she said, still clad in her space suit and seated under bright sunshine in a white folding chair in front of the round-edged module.

Back at the Beijing command centre, manned space programme director Zhang Youxia declared the mission a "complete success" and said all three astronauts were in perfect health.

He was followed by the Communist Party's seventh-ranking official, Zhang Gaoli, who conveyed congratulations from the party leadership and declared that the manned programme was entering a new and more challenging stage.

The programme has "tremendous significance for the advance of our country's economic and technological strength and ethnic unity, and displays the great Chinese path, spirit, and power," he said.

China's military-backed space programme is a source of massive national pride and the successful mission stands as the latest milestone in the party's smooth consolidation of support under its new leader, President Xi Jinping, who also commands the armed forces.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the US to achieve manned space travel independently, and has powered ahead in a series of methodically timed steps.

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