Commander Jing Haipeng, space flight engineer Zhu Yangzhu, and payload expert Gui Haichao wave during the seeing-off ceremony before boarding for the launch of the Long March-2F carrier rocket with a Shenzhou-16 manned space flight at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, 30 May 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI

Chinese astronauts returns safely after 5 months at Tiangong space station

Beijing, Oct 31 (EFE).- The three astronauts of the Shenzhou-16 mission, the first to stay aboard the Chinese space station Tiangong since its completion, returned safely to the Dongfeng landing site in the Gobi Desert, in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Tuesday.

The return capsule of the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft successfully landed at 8:11 am with mission commander Jing Haipeng and crewmates Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao aboard.

The three taikonauts, as astronauts are known in China, are in good health, the China Manned Space Agency said.

The Shenzhou-16 spacecraft separated from the Tiangong space station at 8:37 pm on Monday.

Before their departure, the Shenzhou-16 crew handed over control of the space station to the astronauts of the Shenzhou-17, who arrived at Tiangong on Thursday.

The Shenzhou-17 mission will be the second group of crew members of the Tiangong during what will be its application and development phase, during which a new extension module is scheduled to be added to the T-structure of the space station to give it a “cross” shape.

Tiangong, whose name means Heavenly Palace in Mandarin, will weigh about 70 tons and is expected to operate for about 10 years orbiting about 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

By 2024, it could become the world’s only space station if the International Space Station, a United States-led initiative to which China is barred due to military ties to its space program, is withdrawn that year as planned.

In recent years, the Chinese space program has achieved successes such as landing the Chang’e 4 probe on the hidden side of the Moon – the first time it has been achieved – and reaching Mars for the first time, becoming the third country to do so after the US and the former Soviet Union. EFE