BEIJING (AFP) – Three Chinese astronauts safely returned to Earth on Tuesday after five months in orbit at the country’s space station, state media reported.
Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao touched down at China’s Dongfeng landing site at 8:11 am (0011 GMT), according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Footage showed their return capsule parachuting down into the barren Gobi Desert, kicking up a cloud of orange dust as it hit the ground.
“On-site medical supervision and insurance personnel confirmed that the astronauts… are in good health,” CCTV said.
“The Shenzhou-16 crewed flight mission was a complete success.”
Jing, Zhu and Gui travelled to China’s Tiangong space station in late May and were in orbit for 154 days.
They spent the time conducting scientific experiments and carried out a nearly eight-hour spacewalk.
A fresh crew replaced them last week after the Shenzhou-17 mission blasted off from the Jiuquan launch site in the country’s northwest.
Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin will perform “space science and application payload tests”, according to the country’s Manned Space Agency.
They will also conduct maintenance work to fix minor damage to the station from space debris.
Beijing has accelerated plans to become a major space power since President Xi Jinping took the reins a decade ago.
The world’s second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme to catch up with the United States and Russia.
China also aims to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 and eventually build a base on the lunar surface.