A source reported the landing of three Chinese astronauts at a landing site on Sunday somewhere in the Gobi desert approximately at 8:10 p.m. (1210 GMT) after six months working to complete construction of the Tiangong station, a symbol of the country’s ambitious space program.
Prior to departure, they overlapped for almost five days with three colleagues who arrived Wednesday on the Shenzhou-15 mission for their own six-month stay, marking the first time China had six astronauts in space at the same time. The station’s third and final module docked with the station this month.
The three astronauts were part of the Shenzhou-14 mission, which was launched in June this year. After their arrival at Tiangong, Mr. Chen, Ms. Liu and Mr. Cai oversaw five rendezvous and dockings with various spacecraft including one carrying the third of the station’s three modules.
The astronauts were carried out of the capsule by medical workers about 40 minutes after touchdown and they were all received in good condition. They were all smiles and looked happy with what they had accomplished. To put it in Mr.Chen’s words, the first astronaut to exit from the capsule, he felt very fortunate to have witnessed the completion of the basic structure of the Chinese space station after six busy and fulfilling months in space. He remarked, “Like meteors, we returned to the embrace of the motherland”. Ms. Liu, another of the astronauts, said that she was moved to see relatives and her fellow compatriots.
China built its own station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections and sensed threat over the Chinese space programs’ close ties to the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.
The Tiangong with a lifespan of 10 to 15 years could be a game changer owing to the fact that one day it could be the only space station still operating if the International Space Station retires by around the end of the decade as expected.