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Chinese astronauts return to Earth after spending six months in space

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Marking the longest mission for Chinese space crews

Crew Members Of The Shenzhou XIII Mission Return To Earth
The three taikonauts spent 183 days on the Tiangong space station.
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Three Chinese astronauts, also known as taikonauts, safely returned to Earth yesterday after spending six months aboard China’s unfinished Tiangong space station, according to a report from Space.com. This is China’s second crewed mission to Tiangong and its longest so far.

The Shenzhou 13 spacecraft landed in the Inner Mongolia desert at 9:56AM local time on Saturday morning after departing from the space station’s core Tianhe module about nine hours prior. The crew took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert last October and spent a total of 183 days on the space station.

This mission is China’s longest. In addition, taikonaut Wang Yaping made history as the first Chinese woman to visit the Tianhe space station and also became the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk. Wang was accompanied by crewmate Ye Guangfu and commander Zhai Zhigang. The trio carried out a total of two spacewalks, performed various tests around the station, and held two live lectures for students watching from Earth.

Shenzhou 13 is part of 11 missions China has planned to finish constructing 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 Shenzhou 14 crew is set to depart for the space station sometime in June. China plans on having the station finished by the end of the year, which will include the launch of two additional modules.

While six months aboard a space station sounds like a long time, it’s the typical timeframe for missions to the International Space Station, which China is excluded from. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who just returned to Earth last month, currently holds the American record for the longest consecutive stay in space at 355 days.

Correction April 18th 10:08AM ET: A previous version of the article stated that Mark Vande Hei held the record for the longest consecutive stay in space when he just holds the American record.