Astronauts return to Earth today

Out of this world: The Shenzhou-15 and Shenzhou-14 crew taking a group picture after a historic gathering in space on Wednesday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. — AP

BEIJING: The Shenzhou 14 mission crew is scheduled to return to Earth today after a six-month stay inside the Tiangong space station, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

The agency said yesterday morning that the Shenzhou 14 astronauts – Senior Colonel Chen Dong, Senior Colonel Liu Yang and Senior Colonel Cai Xuzhe – handed over on Friday evening the control of the Tiangong station to their peers in the Shenzhou 15 – Major General Fei Junlong, Senior Colonel Deng Qingming and Senior Colonel Zhang Lu, who arrived on the massive orbiting outpost on Wednesday.

In a ceremonial move, the two teams signed a handover document and the Shenzhou 14 crew gave a symbolic unlocking key to the Shenzhou 15 team.

Chen and his crew mates are scheduled to fly back aboard their Shenzhou 14 spacecraft to the Dongfeng Landing Site in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region today evening, according to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China that manages the landing site.

The centre said yesterday that recovery workers are getting ready for the crew’s return.

The Shenzhou 14 astronauts arrived at Tiangong on the evening of June 5, several hours after their spacecraft was launched from the Jiuquan centre.

The crew is the third group of visitors to the Chinese station, one of the largest pieces of infrastructure mankind has ever deployed in Earth’s orbit.

During their six-month journey, they monitored the arrival of the Wentian and Mengtian space lab modules, which completed the Tiangong’s in-orbit assembly.

They also carried out three spacewalks and delivered a science lecture to Chinese students.

Chen now holds the record for the longest in-orbit time of a Chinese astronaut after spending a total of 214 days on two space missions.

Currently, the Tiangong station consists of the Tianhe core module, the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, the Shenzhou 14 and 15 spacecraft and the Tianzhou 5 cargo ship. — China Daily/ANN

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