At 9am on October 15, 2003, the Shenzhou 5 mission finally realized the Chinese dream of getting a human beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Yang Liwei became the first man sent into space by the Chinese space program, and China became only the third country to independently send a man into space, after Russia and the US.
Taikonaut Yang endured a 21-and-a-half-hour flight, eating specially designed packets of shredded pork with garlic, Kung Pao chicken and eight treasure rice, along with Chinese herbal tea. He regularly updated Earth on his condition, at one point assuring his wife, "I feel very good, don’t worry."
In the middle of the journey, state television broadcast footage of him inside his capsule waving two small flags: one of the People’s Republic of China and another of the United Nations. State media also reported that Yang’s capsule was supplied with a tent, a knife and a gun "in case he landed in the wrong place."
The craft landed as planned in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia at around 6.30am on October 16, having completed 14 orbits of the Earth and traveled more than 600,000 km. Yang left the capsule 15 minutes later to the congratulations of Premier Wen Jiabao.
The official images broadcast showed the astronaut’s mouth bleeding, sparking rumors of a bumpy landing, something confirmed by accounts of personnel present at the site. But hey, you don’t make an orbit without breaking a few lips…
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