Three Chinese astronauts landed in northern China on Saturday after 183 days in space, state broadcaster CCTV said, ending the country’s longest crewed space mission to date.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft is the latest mission in Beijing’s drive to become a major space power rivalling the US, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

In this file photo taken on October 15, 2021, (L-R) astronauts Ye Guangfu, Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang, wave at a departure ceremony before their launch on the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, in northwest China. – Three Chinese astronauts landed in Inner Mongolia on April 16, 2022 after 183 days in space, state broadcaster CCTV said, ending Beijing’s longest crewed space mission to date. Photo: Stringer/AFP.

The two men and one woman — Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping — landed in a small capsule shortly before 10 am Beijing time, after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

“Shenzhou 13’s re-entry capsule successfully landed,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

The trio originally launched in the Shenzhou-13 from the Gobi Desert in northwestern China last October, as the second of four crewed missions during 2021-2022 sent to assemble the country’s first permanent space station — Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace.”

Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit. 

The astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.

Tiangong is expected to operate for at least 10 years, and the three astronauts are the second group to stay there.

Mission commander Zhai is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008, while Ye is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

China’s previous record spaceflight mission length was set by last year’s Shenzhou-12 mission, which lasted 92 days. 

Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to CCTV.

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