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 by space.com† This is China’s second manned mission to Tiangong and the longest to date.
The Shenzhou 13 spacecraft landed in the desert of Inner Mongolia at 9:56 a.m. local time Saturday morning and departed from the space station’s core Tianhe module about nine hours earlier. The crew departed from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert last October and spent a total of 183 days on the space station.
Not only is this mission the longest in China, 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 take a spacewalk. Wang was accompanied by crew member Ye Guangfu and commander Zhai Zhigang. The trio conducted a total of two spacewalks, conducted several tests around the station, and delivered two live lectures to students watching from Earth.
Shenzhou 13 is part of 11 missions planned by China to complete the construction of the Tiangong space station. China first launched the Tianhe module in April 2021 and later sent three taikonauts to bring the station online. As noted by space.com, the crew of Shenzhou 14 will leave for the space station sometime in June. China plans to complete the station by the end of the year, including the launch of two additional modules.
While six months aboard a space station may sound like a long time, it’s the typical time frame for missions to the International Space Station, which excludes China. 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.