Three Chinese astronauts, also known as taikonauts, returned safely to Earth yesterday after spending six months aboard China’s unfinished Tiangong space station, according to a report from space.com. This is China’s second manned mission to Tiangong and the longest so far.
The Shenzhou 13 spacecraft touched down in the Inner Mongolian desert at 9:56 am local time on Saturday morning, departing from the space station’s Tianhe core module about nine hours earlier. The crew blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert last October and spent a total of 183 days on the space station.
This mission is not only China’s longest, but taikonaut Wang Yaping made history as the first Chinese woman to visit the Tianhe space station and also became the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk. Wang was accompanied by his crewmate Ye Guangfu and Commander Zhai Zhigang. The trio conducted a total of two spacewalks, ran various tests around the station, and held two live lectures for students watching from Earth.
Shenzhou 13 is part of 11 missions that China has planned to finish building the Tiangong space station. Porcelain first launched the Tianhe module in April 2021, and then sent three taikonauts to bring the station online. as pointed out space.com, the Shenzhou 14 crew will depart for the space station sometime in June. China plans to have the station completed by the end of the year, which will include the launch of two additional modules.
While six months aboard a space station sounds like a long time, it’s the typical length of time for missions to the International Space Station, from which China is excluded. NASA astronaut Mark Van de Hei, who just returned to Earth last month, currently holds the record for the longest consecutive stay in space at 355 days.