Ju Zhenhua / Xinhua
Three crew members from China’s Shenzhou 12 space mission have returned home after spending three months aboard the Tiangong Space Station, preparing it for future expansion missions.
Chinese astronauts Ni Haisheng, Liu Beoming and Tang Hongbo landed safely on Friday, Sept. 17, at the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia region, Chinese media reported. The 90-day trip to the Tiangong Space Station set a national record for the length of a space mission, but the next flight, scheduled for launch in October, is expected to last twice as long.
The landing site in the Gobi Desert usually serves as a backup return site for Chinese manned expeditions. It was chosen as the primary destination for the space capsule as a precaution, because China’s National Space Agency has limited experience returning people from its fledgling space station.
The area of the landing area is approximately 20,000 square kilometers, which provides a comfortable margin for deviations of the path.
The landing was successful, with the three crew members reportedly in good shape after touchdown.
Shenzhou 12 was the first of four manned missions required for the planned expansion of the Tiangong Space Station.
Three additional modules are scheduled to be launched and attached before the end of 2022 from the Chinese orbital site, which currently includes only its core module.
Space explorers spend their time testing the station’s equipment, including its robotic arm, and preparing it for future missions. The trip included two spacewalks, conducted in early July and late August.
Ahead of the next manned mission to the Tianhe base unit, China will launch the station’s second unmanned resupply operation.
Once completed, the Chinese installation will be humanity’s only alternative platform for long-range manned orbital missions to the old International Space Station (ISS).
China has been officially banned from traveling to the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from cooperating with its Chinese counterparts. Russia, a major participant in the ISS project, has expressed interest in using the Chinese space station as part of a potential joint lunar exploration programme.
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