Yang Liwei, the 38-year-old air force lieutenant colonel and China's first Taikonaut, returned safely to Earth at 6:28 a.m. Thursday (6:28 p.m. EDT Wednesday), landing as planned on the Inner Mongolian grasslands of northern China.

Yang blasted off on a Long March 2F rocket Wednesday morning on a 21-hour mission to orbit the globe 14 times, making China the third nation after Russia and the United States to send a person into space.

Despite concerns elsewhere in the world as to China's real intentions in space, there has been a strong sense of hope, that China's mission will energize the existing space activities of other countries by making old patterns of space partnerships obsolete.

Space programs in the United States, Europe and even Japan have needed to be jump-started for some time now, and China's emergence adds a full-fledged third partner to what has been mainly a U.S.-Russian alliance dictated by long-extinct diplomatic considerations. China provides new options for projects during a crisis, such as moving crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.

Analysts see practical short- and long-term benefits to China's human space program ┬ĘC not least enhancing the commercial attractiveness of the country's high-tech exports as well as the credibility of its aerospace military hardware.

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