BEIJING: Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after 183 days in space, marking the end of China’s longest crewed mission as it continues its quest to become a major space power.
The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was the latest mission in Beijing’s drive to rival the United States, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.
Live footage from state broadcaster 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 the capsule.
The two men and one woman — Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping — returned to Earth shortly before 10am Beijing time (0200 GMT), after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.
China’s longest crewed mission completes, as plans afoot to launch Shenzhou-14
Ground crew applauded as the three astronauts took turns to report that they were in good physical condition.
Mission commander Zhai was the first to emerge from the capsule roughly 45 minutes after the landing, waving and grinning at cameras as he was lifted by ground crew into a specially designed chair before being bundled into a blanket. “I’m proud of our heroic country,” Zhai said in an interview with CCTV shortly after leaving the capsule.
“I feel extremely good.” The trio originally launched in the Shenzhou-13 from China’s northwestern Gobi Desert last October, as the second of four crewed missions during 2021-22 sent to assemble the country’s first permanent space station — Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”.
Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.
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 astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.