Three Chinese return from a record stay in space

The three astronauts spent six months on the Chinese space station, with which China hopes to develop its space program and catch up with Europe, the United States and Russia.

It is China’s longest stay in space ever: the three astronauts of the Shenzhou-13 mission returned to Earth on Saturday after spending six months on the Chinese space station.

This is another successful step for Beijing in its ambitious space program to catch up with the United States, Europe and Russia. After firing its red and white parachute, the return capsule where the crew had taken place – made up of a woman and two men – landed shortly before 10:00 a.m. (02:00 GMT) in the Inner Mongolia desert (at north of Porcelain). “The Shenzhou-13 return capsule landed successfully.”state television CCTV said. Live CCTV footage showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust. Ground crews, who had stayed away from the landing site, rushed in helicopters to reach the capsule.

Ground staff applauded the astronauts who took turns saying they felt”well“. The crew was made up of three army pilots: Commander Zhai Zhigang (55), his colleague Wang Yaping (42) – who became the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk in November – and the younger Ye Guangfu (41 years old), whose first spaceflight was Zhai Zhigang emerged from the capsule first, about 45 minutes after landing.

The former fighter pilot, who conducted China’s first spacewalk in 2008, waved to cameras, smiling, as ground personnel hoisted him up and wrapped him in a blanket. “I am proud of our heroic country”he told CCTV. With 183 days in space, the crew breaks the previous national record for a stay in space, which was 92 days and was set in 2021 during the previous manned mission, Shenzhou-12.

“The goal (with Shenzhou-13) was not in itself to set a record but to develop the skills necessary for a permanent occupation of the station”China’s ultimate goal, noted Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States.

Named in Chinese Tiangong (“heavenly palace) but also known by its English acronym CSS (for “chinese space stationin French), should be completed by the end of 2022. Similar in size to the former Russian-Soviet Mir station, its lifespan should be about fifteen years.

Place “world class»

In six months, the crew completed two spacewalks, continued construction of the station, taught two online courses for Chinese schoolchildren, conducted experiments, and perfected their mastery of long-term stays. “For example, they improved their maintenance skills, through spacewalks and robotic arm manipulations.” of the station, explained to AFP Chen Lan, an analyst at the site, which specializes in the Chinese space program.

Shenzhou-13 was notnot a significant advance” plus “the completion of the CSS later this year will be a very important event“, he stressed. Next stages of construction: shipping a freighter in May and then another manned mission, Shenzhou-14, which should launch in June.

The last two modules of the space station will be sent from July. They will take the direction of space from the Wenchang launch center, located on the tropical island of Hainan (south) and from which the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, declared this Thursday that he wanted to turn it into a site “world class“. From Shenzhou-14, the CSS should be permanently busy.

China has been investing billions of euros in its space program for several decades and sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has achieved some remarkable feats, especially in recent years. In early 2019, it placed a machine on the far side of the Moon, a world first. In 2020, it brought back samples from the Moon and finished Beidou, its satellite navigation system, a competitor to the American GPS. In 2021, it landed a small robot on Mars and plans to send men to the Moon by 2030. China has been banned from entering the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States barred NASA from engaging with the Asian country.

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