Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth after Six Months in Space
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Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after 183 days in space, ending China's longest crewed mission as it continues its quest to become a major space power.
The Shenzhou13 spacecraft was the latest mission in Beijing's bid to compete with the United States, having landed a rover on Mars and sent probes to the moon.
Live footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust while the ground crew, who had stayed clear of the landing pad, scooted in helicopters to reach the capsule.
Two men and one woman, Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu, and Wang Yaping, returned to Earth just before 10 a.m. Beijing time (0200 GMT) after spending six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China's Tiangong space station.
The ground crew applauded as the astronauts took turns reporting that they were in good physical condition.
Zhai was the first to exit the capsule about 45 minutes after landing. He waved and smiled for the cameras as the ground crew lifted him onto a specially designed chair before wrapping him in a blanket.
"I am proud of our heroic country," Zhai said in an interview with CCTV shortly after exiting the capsule. "I feel extremely good."
The trio originally launched from Shenzhou13 in northwest China's Gobi Desert last October as the second of four manned missions dispatched in 2021-2022 to build the country's first permanent space station, Tiangong, which translates to "heavenly palace." " means.
Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November when she and colleague Zhai spent six hours setting up the space station's equipment.
Mission Commander Zhai, 55, is a former fighter pilot who conducted China's first spacewalk in 2008 while Ye is a pilot in the People's Liberation Army.
The trio completed two spacewalks during their time in orbit, conducted numerous scientific experiments, installed equipment, and tested technologies for future construction.
Astronaut has spent the past few weeks arranging and preparing cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the forthcoming Shenzhou14, due to launch in the coming months.
China's previous record spaceflight mission length was set by last year's Shenzhou-12 deployment, which lasted 92 days.
Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The world's second largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space program in hopes of having a permanently manned space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the moon.
The country has come a long way to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.
But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country's plans for its much-vaunted "space dream" have been kicked into high gear.
In addition to a space station, Beijing is also planning to build a base on the moon, and the country's National Space Administration has announced plans to launch a manned lunar mission by 2029.
China has been barred from the International Space Station since 2011 when the United States barred NASA from dealing with the country. While China has no plans to use its space station for ISS-scale global cooperation, Beijing has said it is open to foreign cooperation, although the extent of that cooperation remains unclear.
The ISS will be retired after 2024, although NASA has said it could continue to function until 2030.
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