Chinese astronauts return to Earth after 6 months aboard new Space Station

Chinese astronauts return to Earth after 6 months aboard new Space Station

BEIJING — Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after six months aboard their country's newest orbital station in the longest crewed mission to date for China's ambitious space program.

The Shenzhou 13 space capsule was landed in the Gobi Desert in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, and was shown on state TV.

During the mission, astronaut Wang Yaping carried out the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman. Wang and crewmate Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu beamed back physics lessons for high school students.

China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003 and landed robot rovers on the moon in 2013 and Mars last year. Officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon.

State TV showed images from inside the capsule as it traveled 200 meters per second over Africa before entering the atmosphere.

The second crew was aboard Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace. Its core module, Tianhe, was launched in April 2021. Plans call for adding two more modules this year.

There isn't yet a date for the launch of the next Tiangong crew.

China is excluded from the International Space Station due to U.S. unease that its space program is run by the ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army.

After the Soviet Union and the United States, China was the third nation to launch an astronaut into space on its own.

After its predecessors launched in 2011 and 2016, Tiangong is China's third space station.

The government announced in 2020 that China's first reusable spacecraft had landed on a test flight, but no photos or details of the vehicle have been released.

On Tuesday, President Xi Jinping visited the launch site in Wenchang on the southern island of Hainan from where the Tianhe module was launched.

Xi told staff at the site, all of them in military uniform, that they believed that they were pursuing the frontiers of world aerospace development and the major strategic needs of national aerospace.