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After 90-Day Mission, Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth

September 17, 2021

On Friday, Chinese astronauts returned to Earth after completing the country’s longest-ever crewed mission, marking the latest milestone in Beijing’s push to become a major space power. At 1:35 p.m. local time, the capsule carrying the three astronauts was suspended on a parachute and landed in the Gobi desert (05:35 GMT). The crew of the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft was in “good health” after the 90-day mission, a record for China, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The mission was part of China’s heavily publicized space program, which has already resulted in the country landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the moon. The launch of Beijing’s first crewed mission in nearly five years coincided with the ruling Communist Party’s 100th anniversary on July 1, and was the centerpiece of a massive propaganda campaign. The crew stayed at the Tiangong space station for 90 days, conducting spacewalks and scientific experiments.

“The successful conclusion of the mission paves the way for future regular missions and the use of the Chinese space station (CSS),” said Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts who specializes in China’s space program. “It is a critical and much-needed start for the CSS.” Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace,” is expected to be operational for at least ten years.

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