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Chinese astronauts return to Earth after 6 months on space station

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese spacecraft returned to Earth Tuesday with three astronauts who completed a six-month mission aboard the country’s orbiting space station.

The Shenzhou-17 craft carrying Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin landed at the Dongfeng site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the Gobi Desert shortly before 6 p.m. This comes about four days after the Shenzhou-18 mission docked with the station with their three-member replacement crew.

China built its own space station after being barred from the International Space Station, largely due to US concerns over the Chinese military’s total control of the space program, amid increased technological competition between the two geopolitical rivals. This year, the Chinese station is expected to carry out two cargo spacecraft missions and two human spaceflight missions.

China’s ambitious space program aims to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030as well as bringing back samples from Mars around the same year and launching three lunar probe missions over the next four years.

The new crew consists of Commander Ye Guangfu, 43, a veteran astronaut who participated in the Shenzhou-13 mission in 2021, and fighter pilots Li Cong, 34, and Li Guangsu, 36, who are first-timers in spaceflight.

They will spend about six months on the space station’s three modules, the Tiangong, which can accommodate up to six astronauts at a time. During their stay, they will conduct scientific tests, install space debris protection equipment, perform payload experiments and broadcast science lessons to students on Earth.

China has also said it plans to eventually providing access to its space station to foreign astronauts and space tourists. As the ISS nears the end of its useful life, China could eventually be the only country or company to maintain a crewed station in orbit.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to send a person into space using its own resources. Tiangong was launched in 2021 and completed 18 months later.

The US space program is believed to still hold a significant advantage over China’s due to its spending, supply chains and capabilities. However, China has broken out in some areas, bringing back samples of the lunar surface for the first time in decades and land a rover on the less explored hidden side of the moon.

The United States aims to return a crew to the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of a renewed commitment to crewed missions, with help from private sector players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

News Source : apnews.com
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