Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth in their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft on Saturday after spending six months aboard the nation’s first permanent space station.
Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping landed in the Gobi Desert after 182 days in space. It was the longest Chinese crewed mission to date, nearly doubling the three months the crew of Shezhou-12 spent aboard the space station launched last April.
The Tianzhou-2 cargo ship departed the Tianhe core module of China’s space station on Sunday after 10 months in space, the Xinhua news agency reported. Controllers plan to send the vehicle to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere at an unspecified time.
Tianzhou-2 was launched with 6.6 metric tons of supplies and fuel from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on May 29, 2021. The vehicle was the first cargo ship sent to China’s first permanent space station.
Tianzhou-2 carried 6,640 kg (14,639 lb) of cargo to the station, including 4,690 kg (10,340 lb) of pressurized cargo and 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) of fuel. The module measures 10.6 m x 3.35 m (34.8 ft x 11 ft) and has two solar panels.
Tianzhou-2 was originally docked to Tiangong’s aft docking port. Last September, the vehicle was moved to the forward docking port after the station’s first crew returned to Earth aboard the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft. In January, the crew of Shenzhou 13 crew tested Tiangong’s robotic by moving Tianzhou-2 to and from a radial docking port.
The Tianzhou-3 cargo ship remains docked to the space station. The Shenzhou-13 crew — Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, Ye Guangfu — are set to return to Earth next month after approximately six months in space. The launches of the Tianzhou-4 cargo ship and Shenzhou-14 crew ship are scheduled for May.
Wang Yaping became the first female Chinese astronaut to make a spacewalk on Monday. She and mission command Zhai Zhigang spent 6.5 hours outside the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The astronauts tested the Chinese-developed next-generation spacesuits, worked with the station’s robotic arm, and evaluated the reliability and safety of the support equipment.
Zhai made his first spacewalk in 13 years. On 27 September 2008, he became he first Chinese astronaut to walk in space during the three-day Shenzhou-7 mission.
It was the first spacewalk by the three-member Shenzhou-13 crew, which arrived at the space station for a six-month stay on Oct. 15. The crew, which includes Ye Guangfu, will return to Earth in April.
The Shenzhou-12 crew conducted two spacewalks during a 92-day long mission that ended on Sept. 17.
China launched the second three-member crew for a three-month stay aboard the Tiangong space station early Saturday morning local time.
The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft carrying commander Zhai Zhigang and crewmates Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 2F booster at 12:23 a.m. (12:23 a.m. EDT Friday). The crew is scheduled to dock with the space station about 6.5 hours after launch.
Three Chinese astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning local time for a three-month mission to the nation’s first permanent space station. It will be the longest human space mission in Chinese history, and the country’s first crewed fight in nearly five years.
The mission is commanded by Nie Haisheng, 56, who has logged more than 19 days in space on two previous flights. Nie, who is a major general in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, was joined by Liu Boming, 54, who will be flying to space for the second time, and rookie astronaut Tang Hongbo, 45.