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Chinese astronauts land after six months on space station

BEIJING (AP) – Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth yesterday after six months aboard their country’s newest orbital station in the longest crewed mission to date for China’s ambitious space programme.

The Shenzhou 13 space capsule landed in the Gobi desert in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, shown live on state TV.

During the mission, astronaut Wang Yaping carried out the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman. Wang and crewmates Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu beamed back physics lessons for high school students.

China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003 and landed robot rovers on the moon in 2013 and on Mars last year. Officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon.

Yesterday, state TV showed images from inside the capsule as it travelled at 200 metres per second over Africa before entering the atmosphere.

The trio were the second crew aboard Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace. Its core module, Tianhe, was launched in April 2021.

Plans call for completing construction this year by adding two more modules. Authorities have yet to announce a date for launching the next Tiangong crew.

China is excluded from the International Space Station due to United States (US) unease that its space programme is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

China was the third nation to launch an astronaut into space on its own after the former Soviet Union and the US.

Chinese astronaut Ye Guangfu sits outside a return capsule of the Shenzhou-13 manned space mission after landing at the Dongfeng landing site in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. PHOTO: AP