Three Chinese astronauts return after longest manned mission in space

The three Chinese astronauts on the "Shenzhou-13" mission returned to Earth Saturday after spending six months in the Chinese space station, the longest manned mission to Beijing to date.

This is an additional successful step for Beijing in its ambitious space program to catch up with the United States, Europe and Russia in this field.

After launching its red and white parachute, the return vehicle, loaded with the crew of a woman and two men, landed shortly before 10:00 (0200 GMT) in the desert of Inner Mongolia (Northern China).

"The return vehicle for the Shenzhou-13 mission has successfully landed," state television station CCTV reported.

Live footage on state television showed the vehicle descending into a cloud of dust.

Ground crews, who stayed away from the landing site, rushed by helicopter to reach it.

The ground crew applauded the astronauts, who declared one by one that they "feel relieved."

The new crew includes two men: Zhai Zhigang, 55, the first Chinese to go into space in 2008, Wei Guangfu, 41, who is participating for the first time in a space flight, and Wang Yaping, 41, who became the first Chinese to go into space in space. November.

Zhigang was the first to exit the craft, about 45 minutes after landing.

"I'm proud of our hero country," said the former combat pilot, who waved to the cameras as the ground crew lifted him up.

With its 183 days in space, the crew broke the previous national record for the longest stay in space, which was 92 days, set in 2021 during the previous manned mission "Shenzhou-12".

"The goal of Shenzhou-13 was not in itself a record-breaking but rather to develop the capabilities needed for permanent residence at the station," said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States, which is China's ultimate goal.

It is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, the construction of the Chinese space station "Tiangong" (Heavenly Palace), which will be similar in size to the former Soviet Mir station (1986-2001), and has a lifespan of about 15 years.

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