BEIJING, Oct. 15, 2003 (Xinhuanet) -- Yang Liwei, China's home-trained astronaut sent into orbit by a home-made spacecraft, said "hello" to people all over the world while his spaceship was taking the 7th circle around the globe at around 6:40 p.m. Beijing time Wednesday.
It was the first Chinese greeting to mankind's mother planet from outer space, though the people of the country had been dreaming of this for thousands of years.
This centuries-old dream, which was kept alive only in fairy tales and legends, came true at 9 a.m. Beijing time Wednesday, when the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft, atop a China-made Long March II F carrier rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China and sent Yang into the preset orbit in less than 10 minutes.
"I feel good," said Yang, 38 and a veteran fighter pilot in the Chinese People's Liberation Army air force, in his capsule.
The Wednesday launch has made China the third nation to independently send a man into outer space, only after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
"This is the glory of our great motherland," said Chinese President Hu Jintao after China's space program supervisors declared the launch a "complete success" at 9:42 a.m.
Hu went to the Jiuquan launch base, some 1,600 km away from the capital Beijing, to witness the launch.
As planned, the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft will orbit the earth 14 times before landing on the vast grassland of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region early Thursday morning. By press time, the spacecraft has completed a crucial orbit shift and is flying on a circular orbit at an altitude of 343 km.
During his orbital flight, Yang, who almost spent a sleepless night for pre-launch preparations, took a sweet "space snooze" for nearly three hours and was also believed to have enjoyed one or two "space meals".
On his space menu were typical Chinese dishes like spicy-and-sour shredded meat and sliced chicken meat, traditional desserts like "Eight-Treasure-Rice" and a drink of Chinese herbal tea, sources said.
At around 5:30 p.m. Beijing time, Yang had a short conversationwith Cao Gangchuan, China's defense minister and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, via live communications systems. And two and a half hours later, he told his wife and son in a family chat "it looks extremely splendid around here."
Live footage showed Yang in good spirit in his capsule, as he once again told General Cao that he was feeling fine.
"I will strive to complete my tasks well and ensure the full success of the mission," Yang pledged.
Yang then displayed a five-star national flag of China and a United Nations flag, both of the miniature size, in his capsule.
This move was intended to highlight China's persistent pursuit of peaceful exploration of space, sources said.
Both Russia and the United States have welcomed China's companyto the club of manned space flight, while many other nations, especially China's Asian neighbors, have also sent in congratulatory messages.
All across China, the news of Shenzhou-5's successful launch was greeted with great excitement and ecstasy. "Fantastic!" exclaimed Chang Fengyan, a Beijing university teacher who learnt about the launch success from TV breaking news.
"Nothing is more exciting than the news of the successful launch! Every Chinese is proud of it," said Wang Yong, an advertising agent in the capital.
Many Chinese knew in their childhood the story of Chang'e, a legendary beauty who flew to the moon after taking some magic medicine and stayed there as the Goddess of the Moon.
Back in the 14th century, a Chinese named Wan Hu attempted to send himself into sky by lighting 47 gunpowder-packed bamboo tubestied to his chair. Although he got killed in this adventure, Wan has since been widely regarded as the world's first person using rocket as a flight vehicle.
However, while Wan's vision was finally turned into reality, there are still a few left in wonder and disbelief. "Is there really a man in that flame-jetting thing?" asked 64-year-old Namgyai in southwest China's Tibet while watching television.
When he was finally convinced, he said: "A Chinese man has flown into the sky, that's really good luck for the Chinese people."
"I pray for his safe return," said the old man. So do others of 1.3 billion people on this sacred land.