China’s record-breaking astronauts are back on Earth after six months in orbit

China's record-breaking astronauts are back on Earth after six months in orbit0

Chinese astronauts — or taikonauts, as the country calls them — Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping have returned to Earth after spending 183 days in space. That’s the country’s longest crewed mission to date so far, with the taikonauts spending those six months aboard Tianhe, the living module of China’s Tiangong space station. As Space notes, Wang Yaping was also the first female taikonaut to live aboard Tianhe and the first Chinese woman to go on a spacewalk. 

The taikonauts were part of the Shenzhou-13 mission, which is the second of four crewed missions and the fifth out of the eleven overall missions China intends to launch to finish building its space station by the end of the year. They did two spacewalks and performed 20 science experiments while in orbit. The team also manually controlled the Tianhe module for a docking experiment with an unmanned cargo spacecraft. 

China, which isn’t an ISS partner, launched Tianhe to low Earth orbit in April 2021 and quickly followed that up with several more launches in an effort to meet its space station’s 2022 construction deadline. The country sent the first crewed mission to its fledgling station in June last year, and the three taikonauts involved spent three months in Tianhe testing systems and conducting spacewalks. In June, China is expected to launch its next crewed mission, the Shenzhou-14, with three taikonauts onboard who’ll also spend six months in orbit.
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