New step for Beijing’s ambitious space program: three taikonauts returned to Earth this Friday after three months in chinese space station under construction, of which they were the very first occupants. Suspended from a parachute with red and white stripes, their return capsule “landed successfully” in the Gobi Desert (northwest China) at around 13:35 (5:35 GMT), according to public television. CCTV.
The three men took off in mid-June from the Jiuquan launch center, not far from where they landed on Friday. Their mission, Shenzhou-12, was the longest ever carried out in space by the Chinese. This is a new step in China’s ambitious space program, which has already landed probes on the Moon, on Mars and plans to send a crew to the lunar star within ten years.
“The Shenzhou-12 mission achieved its goal of activating the new station and making it operational,” Jonathan McDowell, astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in the United States, told AFP. “This paves the way for future regular missions to the station. It was very important and really essential to make a success of these beginnings ”, notes Chen Lan, analyst of the site. GoTaikonauts.com, specializing in the Chinese space program.
CCTV broadcast live the return of the three men, including impressive images from an on-board camera of the capsule, which showed it flying over the ocher-colored desert expanses at high speed.
” In shape “
After landing, vehicles and space personnel in white suits rushed to help the astronauts, who “are in good shape,” state television said. Huang Weifen, a senior manned space program official, told CCTV that the three men will now have to undergo quarantine. A precaution taken “not because of covid-19” but because “their immunity has been weakened” by their long stay in space, she stressed. “This measure is being taken to protect them. “
On board Tianhe (“Heavenly Harmony”), the only one of the three space station modules already in space, astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo had many tasks to perform. They carried out spacewalks, maintenance operations or even installed equipment to make the station operational.
Named in English CSS (for “Chinese Space Station”) and in Chinese Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), the station, when fully assembled, will be similar in size to the former Soviet station Mir (1986-2001). Its lifespan will be at least 10 years.
The Chinese ambition to build a station was fueled by the American refusal to accept Chinese into the International Space Station (ISS) program, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Shenzhou-12 was the first Chinese manned mission in nearly five years and a matter of prestige for the Communist Party (CCP), in power in China, which is celebrating its centenary this year.
For all that, are the Chinese now at the level of the Americans? If “China is ahead of Europe in terms of manned flights”, there are “still gaps” with the United States and these “will take more than a decade, or even more, to be filled”, estimates Chen Lan.
He underlines in particular the advantage of the United States in terms of technologies or even cost reduction, with the use now of reusable launchers to reach the ISS.
“But the main American advance lies in experience,” notes Jonathan McDowell. “The Chinese astronauts, for example, carried out (during this mission) two spacewalks. This is far from the hundreds made with the ISS. This quantity makes the difference. “
The Shenzhou-12 mission was the third launch of the 11 required to build the station. The next launch, that of the Tianzhou-3 spacecraft, which will only carry equipment, will take place in the coming days, according to space authorities. Specialized websites are counting on this Monday.