China has completed its longest manned space mission yet, marking an important step toward the goal of building its own space station.
The return capsule of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft touched down safely early Wednesday in China's remote Inner Mongolia region. The three astronauts aboard waved and smiled for the cameras after emerging from the capsule.
During their 15 days in space, the astronauts successfully docked with and carried out other tests on the Tiangong-1 experimental space module. China hopes the orbiting lab can serve as a prototype for a permanent space station that it hopes to build by 2020.
Although it remains behind the U.S. and Russia, China's space program has made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time. In 2003, China sent its first astronaut to space. Five years later, it completed its first spacewalk.
It is not involved in the International Space Station project, partly because of objections from Washington, where many view Beijing's military-backed space program with suspicion.