Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 11:37 UK

China lauds latest space 'heroes'

Chinese astronauts wave during the welcome-back ceremony
The three Chinese astronauts waved to an appreciative Beijing crowd

Three Chinese astronauts who returned to earth safely on Sunday have been given a heroes' welcome in Beijing.

A motorcade draped in flowers carried the men through the capital as a few hundred people waved flags and smiled.

Slogans and banners included the message: "Learn from the astronauts and salute the astronauts."

The celebrations kicked off a week when the Chinese government marks National Day, which is often associated with displays of patriotism.

The space mission, including China's first ever space walk, follows the country's successful hosting of the Olympics.

Officials feel they have a lot to celebrate, even while international concerns persist over the country's tainted milk scandal.

The space mission commander Zhai Zhigang, and his two fellow astronauts, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, were greeted as heroes in Beijing on Monday.

The media has been full of praise for their historic 68-hour voyage on board the Shenzhou VII spacecraft.

Millions of Chinese watched the live broadcast on Saturday when Mr Zhai embarked on his 15-minute space walk, and witnessed the symbolic moment when he waved a Chinese flag 340 km (210 miles) above the Earth.

The astronauts will now undergo two weeks of preventive quarantine, Xinhua news agency said, as their trips may leave them vulnerable to terrestrial viruses.

The People's Daily newspaper has suggested that putting a Chinese astronaut on the moon was an achievable goal.

"We still do not have an exact timetable for a manned mission to the moon, but I believe a Chinese (astronaut) will set foot on the moon in the not too distant future," an unnamed official told the Communist Party paper.


The landing of the Chinese astronauts

National day

Events to celebrate the establishment of the Communist state began on Sunday, with a reception and concert in the Great Hall of the People.

The official date, 1 October, will be marked by more ceremonies, in Hong Kong and Macau as well as the mainland.

On Monday, another celebration was held to praise the country's achievement in hosting a successful Olympics - an event described by officials as the fulfilment of a 100-year old dream.

Vice President Xi Jinping said holding the Games will keep the state on its path towards reform.

Three Shenzhou VII astronauts return - 28/09/08
The three astronauts returned to Earth on Sunday
"The successful holding of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics has carried forward the Olympic spirit, improved the understanding and friendship between Chinese people and all people of the world," Mr Xi said.

"It has ...shown the world the great achievements of reform and opening and the building of socialist modernisation," he said.

Premier Hu Jintao led an extensive line of top Chinese officials.

"We have stamped China's red seal in the history of the modern Olympic movement," he said.

Amid the back-slapping, there has been little further coverage in official media of the poisoned milk scandal, which has so far killed four babies and sickened more than 50,000.

Chinese-made goods believed or proved to contain the industrial chemical melamine have been recalled from scores of countries.

1. Forward orbital module - crew live and work in this section, which contains scientific equipment. In future missions, this module may remain in orbit as part of a Chinese space station
2. Re-entry capsule - contains seats for three crew
3. Propulsion module - contains spacecraft's power unit and liquid fuel rocket system
4. Solar panels - spacecraft carries one pair of solar panels
5. Spacewalk - One yuhangyuan (astronaut) exits the orbital module on a tether. Another crew member stands just inside to assist in case of an emergency

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