BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has completed its first manned space docking. The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft returned to earth earlier this Friday.
It's just one small step for these three astronauts. One great leap forward for china's space program. The commander of the mission was the first to emerge from the capsule. To applause, waving to onlookers, Jing Haipeng was assisted to his feet. Shenzhou 9 had landed in china's Inner Mongolia about an hour earlier. Re-adjusting to earth's atmosphere after more than a week in space, he was carried into position.
Next was Liu Wang then the astronaut capturing most attention, the first Chinese woman in space Liu Yang. Astronaut Jing Haipeng says, "Well it is her feet out first, the ground staff and her family saying welcome home."
Smiling and waving, she too was escorted from the capsule. All of this watched at mission control by china's premier Wen Jiabao. With a salute the three astronauts safely acknowledged mission accomplished. Liu Yang says, "We have fulfilled the first manned manual docking in space and now back home safely. To all the people across the country thanks for your concern and wishes."
Asked how she felt about her time in space, Liu Yang said, "I felt like I was at home. I feel very happy and very proud of my country."
Today is another step in china's long march into space, a program that began in the 1970's. To a soundtrack of a Chinese revolutionary song, the successful rocket launch is hailed as a milestone. "China's voice is finally heard in space" the narrator of this video says.
China is only now making up ground in the space race. It still lags decades behind space powers the United States and Russia.
But where those countries have wound back their programs, China is aiming higher. In 2003 China put its first person into orbit.
Astronaut Yang Li Wei is now a national hero. Last year Yang showed CNN and others around China's space center, unveiling China's ambitious reach for the stars.
Nearly a decade ago this was man was China's first person into space. Now the plan is to go all the way to the moon that would show China has really arrived.
For now China is that little closer to the moon. The most populous nation on Earth now has a home in the skies.