After 90 days in the Tiangong space station conducting spacewalks and scientific experiments, three Chinese astronauts completed the country’s longest crewed mission and began their journey home on Thursday.
The Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft has safely separated from the space station’s core module, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The mission was part of China’s well-publicized space program, which has already resulted in the country landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the moon.
According to state-run China Aerospace News, the craft carrying the three taikonauts is anticipated to return to Earth on Friday.
The launch of Beijing’s first crewed mission in nearly five years, on July 1, coincided with the ruling Communist Party’s 100th anniversary and was the centrepiece of a vast propaganda campaign.
The “heavenly palace,” Tiangong, is projected to last at least ten years. According to China’s space administration, the core module of the space station, where the astronauts lived, features separate living areas for each astronaut, as well as a “space treadmill” and an exercise cycle, as well as a communication center for emails and video conferences with ground control.
Nie Haisheng, a veteran airforce pilot in the People’s Liberation Army who has already participated in two space missions, is in charge of the mission.
Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, the other two astronauts, are also military personnel.
Before the end of the year, the Chinese space agency plans 11 launches, including three more crewed missions that will transport two lab modules to expand the 70-tonne station.
China’s space ambitions have been fueled in part by a US restriction on its astronauts from participating in the International Space Station, a joint venture of the US, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan.
The ISS is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024, while NASA has stated that it may continue operational until 2028.