Three Chinese astronauts have returned to Earth after achieving China's first manual docking in orbit, a milestone in the country's effort to build a space station by the end of the decade.
The return of the trio, including the country's first female astronaut, to a landing zone in a remote and sandy area of northern China was broadcast to a national audience on state television.
The return capsule of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which lifted off on June 16, hit the ground about 10:00am (0200 GMT) on Friday, after an approach slowed by a large parachute.
Rescue workers quickly surrounded the capsule but did not immediately open it, so the trio's conditions were not immediately clear.
The crew had successfully carried out China's first manual space docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 module, a difficult move that is essential in the process of building a space station -- which Beijing aims to do by 2020.
The manoeuvre -- completed by the Americans and Russians in the 1960s -- requires two vessels orbiting Earth at thousands of kilometres (miles) per hour to come together very gently to avoid destroying each other.
It was the main goal of the mission, China's fourth manned trip to space.
China sees its space programme as a symbol of its global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The Shenzhou-9 team was headed by Jing Haipeng, a veteran astronaut on his third space mission.
Source: AFP Global Edition