Xi greets astronauts, lauds space program
President says the latest mission has inspired nation to greater innovation and creativity
President Xi Jinping hailed China’s latest achievements in space exploration and stressed the importance of scientific innovation in the field while meeting on Tuesday with Tiangong II and Shenzhou XI astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong.
Xi had lengthy chats with Jing and Chen while shaking hands with them at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, as seen on China Central Television’s evening news program.
Xi said China’s progress in space technology is indicative of the nation’s capability to innovate and create. The mission’s progress has greatly inspired Chinese people to go further in innovation, he said.
Xi also spoke with representatives of those involved in research and testing for the latest space mission. Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, was accompanied by six other top leaders of the Party.
Xi applauded Jing’s three missions in space, with the most recent being as a major general. He also asked the astronauts how they felt after returning to Earth and if everything was all right.
The president also men- tioned that Jing spent his 50th birthday in space.
“You had a very high-level birthday,” Xi said with a smile.
During a later address, Xi said: “More than a month ago, the mission was successfully completed. I spoke with the two astronauts. And just like every one of you, I felt very happy, very proud.”
Xi noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of China’s spaceflight development, and the mission should be noted as a milestone in history. He welcomed the fact that talent, especially the young, is drawn to the program.
The Shenzhou XI spacecraft, launched on Oct 17, docked two days later with the Tiangong II space lab, where Jing and Chen lived for 30 days. It was the longest Chinese astronauts had spent in space, surpassing the 15-day Shenzhou X mission of June 2013.
The mission tested, among other things, the spacecraft’s ability to meet, dock and return. It is China’s sixth manned space flight and is expected to pave the way for a permanent space station, which the country plans to start building in 2018 and put into service around 2022.
Jing previously was a member of the Shenzhou VII mission in 2008 and the Shenzhou IX mission in 2012.
Chen is the first man in the second generation of Chinese astronauts to make a spaceflight. Two of his female counterparts, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, have traveled to space.
Zhao Lei contributed to this story.