Tomorrow, three Chinese astronauts (or taikonauts) returned to earth Shenzhou 13 to finish the mission. The mission was the second spacecraft to build China’s first space station, Tiangong.
The Shenzhou 13 crew of Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert last October. The astronaut crew then spent 183 days aboard the Tiangong Space Station, establishing the 180 days (or six months) as regular tenure that future Chinese mission crews would spend in orbit. It was the longest mission in the history of China’s manned space program.
It took the astronauts nine hours to land on Earth’s surface after detaching the return capsule from Tiangong’s Tianhe core module. The capsule touched down in Inner Mongolia at 9:56 a.m. local time on Saturday. In an interview on state television, Astronaut Wang Yaping said, “I want to tell my daughter, mother returned after reaching for the stars.”
Wang Yaping became the first female Chinese astronaut to perform a spacewalk during the mission. The crew also taught physics lessons to high school students across China. However, most of the mission involved testing the station’s capabilities.
However, this is still 157 days short of the longest mission to the International Space Station (ISS), where American cosmonaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days in space from March 2015 to March the following year. NASA conducted medical experiments to observe the effects of prolonged stays in orbit, using Scott Kelly’s twin brother and retired astronaut Mark Kelly as a reference point on Earth.
The Chinese space program has two more Shenzhou missions scheduled in 2022. These two missions aim to complete the construction of the Tiangong space station before the end of the year. Two more modules will be connected to the Tianhe module. The completed Tiangong will be about 20 percent the size of the ISS.