Following a six-month mission aboard China’s Tiangong space station, three Chinese astronauts successfully made their return to Earth over the weekend.
Also known as “taikonauts,” the crew of the Shenzhou 13 landed in the Inner Mongolia desert at 9:56 a.m. (local time) on April 16. The spacecraft is the second of four planned crewed missions and the fifth of 11 total missions to finish constructing Tiangong.
The team, composed of taikonaut Wang Yapin, crewmate Ye Guangfu and commander Zhai Zhigang, departed Earth in October via the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert.
The crew spent 183 days on China’s unfinished space station, marking the country’s longest space mission yet. They conducted two spacewalks, performed a variety of tests and held virtual lectures for students on Earth.
It was a historic mission for Wang, who became the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk as well as the first Chinese woman to visit Tianhe, the core module of the space station launched in April 2021. Wang is only the second female astronaut from China, while Liu Yang became the country’s first female astronaut after traveling to space as part of the Shenzhou 9 mission in 2012.
China is set to complete the station by the end of 2022, with the launch and addition of two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian.
The next mission, which will be conducted by the Shenzhou 14 crew, is set to launch for the space station in June.