China has never spent so much time in space. The three astronauts on the Shenzhou-13 mission returned to Earth on Saturday after 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. Après avoir déclenché son parachute rouge et blanc, la capsule de retour o avait pris place l’équipage – composé d’une femme et de deux hommes – a atterri peu avant 10h (02H00 GMT) dans le désert derie derie Mongoure China). “The return capsule from Shenzhou 13 has landed successfully,” state broadcaster CCTV said.
Live footage from surveillance cameras showed the capsule descending into a cloud of dust. The ground crews, moving away from the landing site, rushed helicopters to reach the capsule. The ground crew applauded the astronauts, who took turns saying they “feel good.” The crew was made up of three military pilots: Commander Zhai Zhigang (55), his colleague Wang Yaping (42) – who became the first Chinese to do a spacewalk in November – and the youngest Ye Guangfu (41), 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, grinning, as the ground crew lifted him, before being gathered into a blanket. “I am proud of our hero country,” he told CCTV.
With a stay of 183 days in space, the crew broke the previous national record for a stay in space, which was 92 days set in 2021 during the previous manned mission, Shenzhou 12. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, U.S. United States of America.
Named in Chinese Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) but also known by the English acronym CSS (for “Chinese Space Station” in French), it is supposed to be completed by the end of 2022. Similar to the former Soviet station Mir, its life should be around five ten years.
Next step, cargo ship
Within six months, the crew carried out two spacewalks, continued building the station, led two online courses for Chinese schoolchildren, conducted experiments and refined their mastery for long-term stay. “For example, they have improved their maintenance skills, through spacewalking and manipulating the robotic arm” of the station, AFP Chen Lan, an analyst at GoTaikonauts.com who specializes in China’s space programme, detailed to AFP.
He said that Shenzhou-13 “was not a significant breakthrough” but that “the completion of the SSC later this year will be a very significant event.” Next phases of construction: dispatch of a cargo ship in May and then another manned mission, Shenzhou-14, which is scheduled to launch in June.
The last two space station modules will be dispatched from July. They will take the direction of space from the Wenchang launch center, located on the tropical island of Hainan (south) which Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Thursday that he wants to make a “global” site. From Shenzhou-14, CSS must be occupied permanently.
Moon around 2030
China has invested billions of euros in its space program for several decades, and sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has made some remarkable achievements, especially in recent years. At the beginning of 2019, a machine was placed on the far side of the moon, for the first time in the world. In 2020, it returned samples from the moon and completed the BeiDou satellite navigation system, a competitor to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).
In 2021, it has landed a small robot on Mars and plans to send men to the moon by 2030. China has been denied entry to the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from communicating with the Asian country.