Chinese astronauts return to Earth after 90-day mission to space station

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day visit to an unfinished space station in the country’s first manned mission since 2016.

In a small return capsule, the three men, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, landed safely in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 1:34 pm (0534 GMT), state media reported.

The Shenzhou-12 mission was the first of four manned missions planned for 2021-2022 as China assembles its first permanent space station. The process requires 11 missions, including the launches of the three modules of the station.

Construction began in April with the launch of the Tianhe module, the future home of the space station. Slightly larger than a city bus, Tianhe was the place where Nie, Liu and Tang have stayed since mid-June, marking China’s longest space flight mission.

While in orbit, the astronauts conducted spacewalks, validated Tianhe’s life support system, tested the module’s robotic arm, and sorted supplies for upcoming manned missions.

The second crewed mission is scheduled for October, and the next group of astronauts is expected to stay in Tianhe for six months.

Before that Shenzhou-13 mission, China will send an automated cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-3, to Tianhe with the necessary supplies for the next crew.

Tianzhou-3 will be launched in the near future, state media recently said.

It was barred by US law from working with NASA, and by extension, on the US-led International Space Station (ISS), China has spent the last decade developing technologies to build its own space station.

China’s space station, expected to be completed by the end of 2022, will be the only alternative to the 20-year-old ISS, which could be retired in 2024.


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