BEIJING ( Associated Press) — Three Chinese astronauts landed in a desert region of northern China on Sunday after six months working on building the Tiangong station, a symbol of the country’s ambitious space program.
Chinese TV reported that the capsule carrying commander Chen Dong and astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe splashed down in the Gobi desert at around 8:10 pm (1210 GMT).
Before leaving the station, they met for about five days with three colleagues who arrived on Wednesday for their six-month stay on the Shenzhou-15 mission, the first time six astronauts from China were in space at the same time.
The astronauts were extricated from the capsule by medical personnel approximately 40 minutes after reaching Earth. They were smiling widely and appeared to be in good health, happily greeting workers at the landing center.
“I am very fortunate to see the completion of the basic structure of the Chinese space station after six busy and satisfying months in space,” said Chen, the first person to exit the capsule. “Like meteors, we return to embrace the motherland.”
Liu, one of the astronauts, expressed his excitement to see family and compatriots.
All three astronauts were part of the Shenzhou-14 mission, which was launched in June. Upon their arrival at Tiangong, Chen, Liu and Kai oversaw five dockings with various spacecraft, including one with the third of the station’s three modules.
The Tiangong Station is part of China’s plans for a permanent space presence.
In 2003, China became the third government to put an astronaut into orbit on its own, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
The government has launched robotic probes to the dark side of the Moon and Mars. In 2020, a probe returned samples from the Moon to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
A crew of three Chinese astronauts took off on Tuesday for the final phase of Tiangong’s construction. The third and final station module was attached to the station this month.