Chinese astronauts return to Earth after six months in space

The crew of three had been in space for 183 days, the longest-ever mission by Chinese astronauts.

the capsule of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft after it returned to Earth with a Chinese flag planted alongside it
The capsule of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft after it returned to earth with three Chinese astronauts who had spent 183 days in space [CCTV via AFP]

Three Chinese astronauts landed in northern China on Saturday after 183 days in space, state broadcaster CCTV said, ending the country’s longest crewed space mission to date.

The two men and one woman – Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping – landed safely in a small capsule shortly before 10am Beijing time (02:00 GMT) after spending six months on the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

“Shenzhou 13’s re-entry capsule successfully landed,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

Barred by the United States from participating in the International Space Station (ISS), China has spent the past 10 years developing technologies to build the Tiangong, the only space station other than the ISS.

The country aims to become a major space power by 2030 and rival the US and Russia. It has already landed a rover on Mars and sent probes to the Moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

The three Chiense astronauts inside the capsule before their return to Earth
Chinese astronauts (left to right) Wang Yaping, Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu inside the return capsule of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft before landing in China’s Inner Mongolia [CCTV via AFP]

Live footage from CCTV showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust, with ground crew who had kept clear of the landing site rushing in helicopters to reach it.

There was applause as the astronauts each took turns to report that they were “feeling good”.

The Shenzhou-13 was the second of four crewed missions to assemble the Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”.

Wang became the first Chinese woman to walk in space last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

Mission commander Zhai, 55, is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008, while Ye is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit.

The incoming Shenzhou-14 is expected to be launched in the coming months.

Astronauts will spend six months on the Chinese space station in future missions, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Astronauts Ye Guangfu, Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang, wearing space suits wave at a departure ceremony before blasting into space last October.
The three astronauts Ye Guangfu, Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang, wave at a departure ceremony before their launch on the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft in October [File: AFP]
Source: News Agencies